Speech: Nuffield Australia National Conference Opening Speech

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Speech: Nuffield Australia National Conference Opening Speech
Wednesday, 18 Sep 2019

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin


Good morning everyone! 

My name is Mike Guerin and I’m CEO of AgForce, the peak body that represents broadacre agriculture in Queensland.

As an organisation that thrives on science and collaboration, it is a privilege to be able to address such a distinguished group.

I begin by acknowledging Jodie Redcliffe, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Nuffield Australia, and thank her for welcoming us all here this morning for what I know will be a stimulating conversation over the next two days, delivered by a wide variety of passionate people who I am sure have the agricultural industry’s best interests at heart. 

But I’m up first, which means I have the great honour of setting the scene, and providing a snapshot of Queensland agriculture – how things are, and how I believe they can be.

By the numbers, agriculture and food industries provide Queensland with nearly 20 billion dollars in farmgate value. This comprises 9.3 billion dollars from livestock and 4.7 billion from cropping.

The agriculture industry directly employs 63,000 people and a further 50,900 in processing.

Queensland is Australia’s largest agricultural state – it covers a total area of more than 1.7 million square kilometres, of which agriculture occupies 88.4 per cent and grazing occupies 85.9 per cent – and Queensland agriculture should and can be a strong contributor to the wider industries goal of reaching 100 billion dollars of gross value of production by 2030.

Put simply, Queensland agriculture is an industry that contributes so much to the economic, social, biodiversity and environmental outcomes of the State, and it can continue to contribute so much more.

But Agriculture is about much more than the data. It is about people.

It’s people that drive this industry so that millions of people in Australia and overseas can enjoy the fruits – not to mention meat, veggies, grains and natural fibres – of all that hard work carried out each day in what is all-too-often the most unforgiving of circumstances.

More than ever, it’s vital we work together to ensure this amazing industry, and the many thousands of people employed by it, who rely on it to feed their families and yours, are given the best chance to thrive.

Collaboration, consultation, consideration: these are the cornerstones of any successful endeavour.

They are how you empower and engender trust.

They are how you bring people with you and encourage them to flourish.

Collaborating, consulting and considering the views of others allows you to take what might be a good idea and make it truly inspirational.

It’s why it’s difficult for many in agriculture to fathom the approach of the current State Government who, rather than working with industry, seems hellbent on dictating to it.

There are numerous examples of the Queensland Government introducing legislation that meets political expediency with little or no input from the industries and communities on which it places such a massive administrative burden. There is one such Bill being forced through Parliament even as we speak.

The so-called Reef Protections Bill is an example of a complete failure to collaborate. I say ‘so-called’ because it is not going to provide any protection for the Reef at all.

Instead, it is going to impose an onerous and expensive regime of red tape and record-keeping on an industry that is already suffering from record-breaking drought and floods.

Because it only considers the issue from one viewpoint.

It is a complete victory of ideology over practicality.

An example of what happens when leaders are not courageous enough to listen to opinions that differ from their own.

Ideas are wonderful, things to be cherished, not to be feared.

This must fundamentally change if we are to get the collective knowledge, wisdom and energy onto this critical issue, and many others, before it’s too late. 

As an industry we couldn’t agree more strongly with protecting the state’s natural assets. What we don’t approve of is an approach that doesn’t favour genuine or full engagement with industry or with many others who have a powerful and relevant contribution to make.

Setting policy in isolation of industry or others who have a valuable contribution to make will not allow us to make the progress we want to and need to make.

If you stand in Charters Towers, in Cloncurry, in Boulia, in Georgetown and in so many other communities in Queensland it is hard not to come to the view that primary producers are not being treated as equals.

I don’t raise the example of the Reef to politicise the conversation. Politicising critical debates leads to worsening economic, social, cultural, biodiversity and environmental outcomes. And we would all benefit from a far greater level of bipartisanship when it comes to matters of such importance.

AgForce is an apolitical organisation whose only allegiance is to our members and the broader industry.

But we do need to be able to have tough conversations with others who care deeply for the right outcomes if we’re any chance of making the kind of quantum shift I believe we need to make.

I have been fortunate enough to experience many great examples of where collaboration has made a significant difference.

Examples:

  • Rangelands Policy Dialogue
  • Natural Capital project
  • Aboriginal Carbon Fund

Conclusion

I trust it will be a productive conference and that much will be learnt from the sessions you attend. But more than anything, I hope that in the people you meet and talk to you find opportunities for future collaboration. It’s on this that so much of what happens in Queensland agriculture in the future depends.

Speech: Nuffield Australia National Conference Opening Speech

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