Australian election: Coalition parties support Northern Australia ‘food bowl’ expansion

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 24th June 2013

Northern Australia could double Australia’s agricultural output by “developing a food bowl”, with a focus on premium produce, according to a paper released by the Federal Opposition coalition parties.

The paper, ‘The Coalition’s 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia’, details the Coalition’s plans, if elected to form government after the 14 September 2013 election, projects a doubling of Australia’s agricultural output by developing Northern Australia, and identifies several opportunities in the region, including:

  • Increasing affluence increasing demand for ‘high quality proteins’ (such as red meat)
  • Northern Australia’s location in the Asia Pacific region “ideally positions it to benefit from the rapid population growth in the region” – seasonal variation may mitigate competition from other exporting countries like US and Canada

According to the Coalition’s report, if elected, it will take advantage of the opportunities for growth in Northern Australia by:

  • Increasing water resource use in Northern Australia, which the Coalition says could help Australia feed an “additional 100 million people”
  • Developing of a “significant” aquaculture industry
  • Diversifying agricultural activity by making necessary changes to Pastoral Leases, which the Coalition says currently constrain lesses to livestock production

“We unashamedly want to establish a ‘northern food bowl’,” said Warren Truss, National Party Leader.

“The world is entering an era of food shortage and shrinking farm product as water and farmland are eaten up by urban sprawl. Australia must ensure we can meet our future domestic needs but also capitalise on ever-growing world food needs. The rising populations and bourgeoning middle-classes among our nearest neighbours mean they know they cannot continue to feed themselves and are looking outwards to Australia for solutions,” Mr Truss said.

Coalition plans tentatively welcomed by NFF

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has tentatively welcomed the Coalition’s plans for Northern Australia.

“Northern Australia may hold huge agricultural potential, and could play a vitally important role in helping to increase Australia’s agricultural productivity to feed a growing Asian population,” said Duncan Fraser, NFF President.

“But it is essentially that this is done in a way that is sustainable, and in consultation with the agricultural sector,” Mr Fraser said. “Many people have tried, and failed, to develop agriculture in the north due to a number of challenges: while it has a guaranteed wet season, it also has a long dry season, tropical pests and diseases, labour shortages and faces the tyranny of distance,” Mr Fraser said.

The NFF also said that development of Northern Australia should not happen “in isolation” and that agriculture should be supported and developed nationally. It also said that any plans to develop agriculture in Northern Australia would need to include investment in agricultural infrastructure “to improve the top end ports, transport systems and processing facilities”, as well as improvements to market access and biosecurity measures.

Current Australian exports to Asia

According to data from the ‘Australian Food Statistics 2011-12’ report released by the Australian Government, Australia exported $17,505 million of food to countries in Asia and the Middle East.

Japan was the biggest importer of Australian food products – even outside the Asian region. According to the report, in 2011-12, Australia exported $4,448 million of food to Japan. Most of that food was grains and meat for processing.

The Republic of Korea, Indonesia and China (including Hong Kong) were the next largest importers of Australian food products. Exports to Korea were worth $2,338 million in 2011-12, exports to Indonesia were worth $2,272 million, and exports to China were worth $1,018 million. In all three countries, grains were the biggest exports in 2011-12.

By comparison, Australia exported $2,285 million of food to the US in 2011-12, and $1,366 million of food to New Zealand.

Agriculture experts more cautious

Meanwhile, Australian Food News has previously reported that Australian agricultural researchers and commentators are more cautious about Northern Australia’s ability to increase agricultural production.