Senate inquiry into Australia’s food security

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 3rd July 2008

A new Senate inquiry is to examine how Australia can produce enough food for itself and maintain its major export capacity in the face of global warming.

The inquiry will be chaired by Senator Bill Heffernan, Liberal Senator for NSW, and represents the first time that the Senate has examined the issue of food security in Australia.

The inquiry will hopefully determine how to produce food that is affordable to consumers, viable for production by farmers and has a sustainable impact on the environment.

Senator Heffernan suggests that the Senate will look into a number of areas in their endeavour to provide a bank of information for future policy decisions to be made. “The Committee will look at the impact of climate change both globally and nationally, the effect of carbon trading, market distortions by, and including, commodity traders and speculators, consolidated retailers, supply and demand, global cartels and their impact on fuel, fertiliser and chemical prices and supply, tax distortions and the impact of their incentives in the market, eg. Managed Investment Schemes (MIS), supply chain efficiencies and availability of agricultural land and water and other related matters.”

Shadow Minister for Environment, Heritage, the Arts and Indigenous Affairs, Dr Sharman Stone, believes that the inquiry is pivotal, as it should provide greater understanding of the future of food-related industries here in Australia. “Australians have long taken for granted the diversity, quality and low prices of foods grown locally,” she claimed. “Government policy, in particular in relation to research and development, climate change and emissions trading schemes as they relate to agriculture, will all play a significant part in the future capacity of Australia’s farmers to feed us and to continue to export globally.”

“This inquiry comes at a critical time for Australia’s farmers,” Dr Stone added. “The cost of farm inputs has risen alarmingly, (and) fuel, fertilisers, veterinary services and supplies are all thinning margins. Urban, mining and forestry encroachment is reducing the arable land supply and labour shortages and the age of those in farm and food production are all adding to the mix of a sector needing very special attention if it is to flourish into the future.”

“I encourage all sectors of Australian food producers and those with a concern for our natural environment to make their submissions to the committee,” Dr Stone said.

The inquiry comes at a time when food prices have been skyrocketing, COAG meets to discuss the future of the Murray-Darling basin, and drought continues to cause great hardship in many rural farming areas.

Additionally, many countries have been restricting exports to ensure that food security in their country is not threatened. Such policy measures have, however, been met with concern as they threaten to undermine the benefits of globalization and lead to higher food prices. Overnight World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, indicated that 26 net food exporting countries have maintained or introduced such measures and he is worried that they have only lead to increased food costs.

“For globalization to work successfully and achieve its promise, it must be inclusive and sustainable,” he advised.

Submissions to the Senate inquiry are invited and can be lodged at or via mail.