Western Australia to lead Australia’s food industry?
The food and agriculture sectors in Western Australia are likely to be major beneficiaries of favourable policies that were promised by the returning Coalition government. The Liberal Party won an overall majority, with 32 seats, in the State’s election on Saturday 9 March 2013. The Liberals have said they intend to maintain their coalition with the WA Nationals, who held 3 Cabinet positions in the Coalition government prior to last Saturday’s results.
Under the Barnett-led State Liberal government, over the last three years the Western Australian food and agriculture sectors have faced big challenges, not least because of the impact of continuing drought as well as the impact of the off-and-on banning by the Australian Federal Government of live cattle exports on the Kimberley ranches.
Agriculture and food production are big business for the State. The gross value of WA agriculture production was $6.4 billion in 2009-10. The State exports 95 per cent of its grain, 77 per cent of its livestock and 17 per cent of agriculture, with at least 70 per cent of WA’s agrifood exports since 2002-03 going to Japan, China and Indonesia. WA’s agriculture exports in 2009-10 totalled $4.5 billion.
Western Australia produces almost half of Australia’s cereal crops.
During its last term the WA Government’s Department of Agriculture and Food developed a strategic plan, which invested $320 million in an expansion of the Ord River Irrigation Area in the State’s North-west, and the commercial cultivation of genetically modified canola. It also invested $54 million in a livestock centre at Muchea, and $21.5 million into saleyards at Katanning and Platagenet.
Export markets were expanded under the same Government. In 2010, wheat was exported to Saudi Arabia for the first time in 20 years, a new lupin (a legume) market was opened with Indonesia, and fresh food exports to Singapore were expanded.
During the election campaign, the Government made promises to establish a $20 million State Biosecurity Fund that would provide grants for biosecurity groups working to keep the State free of pests and disease; $1.5 million to develop the towns and surrounding areas of Moora, Katanning and Manjimup as Specialised Food Centres; and $20 million Agricultural Sciences Research and Development Fund to provide grants for applied research to recognised grower groups, industry bodies, the Department of Agriculture and Food, and universities.
The Liberal Party also promised to consult with industry and farmers about the State’s rail network, some of which has deteriorated leading to an increase in the presence of grain trucks on the roads, particularly in the Wheatbelt in the South-east extending towards Merredin on the route to Kalgoorlie.
Unlike the situation in other Australian States, Western Australia has benefited from having Ministers in Cabinet with appropriate qualifications and business backgrounds in the agriculture and food sectors. For example, Mr Terry Redman, who held the position of Minister of Food and Agriculture until June 2012, was the Principal of the Western Australian College of Agriculture.
Western Australia appears to be the leading proponent government in establishing efficient water capture, water recycling and desalination projects. Premier Barnett himself has long held a strong belief in utilising the rich water resources of the tropical north of the State, and developing an agricultural sector that develops agricultural produce and trade from that region into nearby Asian markets. Australian Food News reported last year on major investment by Chinese interests in the Ord River Project.
Western Australia has also been developing its seafood and fishing industries, in contrast to other Australian States, which have been imposing restrictions that have hampered future developments of fisheries in other areas.