THE Agribusiness Council of Australia (ACA) is continuing to hold private talks with industry groups and State and Federal politicians to push their goal of becoming the peak lobby group for Australian agribusiness.
ACA chairman Ian Joseph said his group wanted to pursue their plans “under the radar” and remain a “small target” to avoid creating unnecessary tensions with a number of peak industry bodies.
That includes the National Farmers Federation (NFF), which currently holds the mantle of peak industry body for farmers, and the Australian Food and Grocery Council for food processors.
Mr Joseph visited Canberra last week with ACA chief executive officer Roy Duncanson to continue discussions around their ongoing formation, but they declined to reveal details of any new members or financial backing.
Mr Duncanson said the ACA still wanted to establish a $5 billion trust fund to help fight immediate industry problems and prepare strategies for dealing with longer-term challenges like future food security.
The ACA formed following a recommendation by Australian agribusiness leaders at a meeting held in Canberra on May 12 last year, organised by WA Liberal Senator Chris Back, to address the industry’s urgent skills shortage crisis.
Mr Duncanson said the ACA has since been focused on overcoming those workforce challenges, including contributing to the federal Senate enquiry into higher education and skills training to support Australian agriculture and also to the Victorian government’s inquiry into agricultural education and training, due to report to parliament on November 16.
They have also contributed to the Senate’s examination of the Foreign Investment Review Board’s (FIRB) National Interest Test and the government’s National Food Plan (NFP).
In August, the ACA also wrote to the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and all federal MP’s and Senators, including Nationals Leader Warren Truss and Liberal Leader Tony Abbott, outlining the group’s vision and goals.
Mr Joseph said the ACA was being created to “better represent the industry to government and advance solutions to address many intractable challenges ahead; including standards of living, industry attractiveness - especially with young people - global food security, bio-security, related national security issues and more”.
“The ACA considers that improving the core drivers underpinning agribusiness productivity will have a more profound and positive impact on improving national productivity levels than the entire focus placed upon determining national wage and salary levels,” the letter said.
“This is because Australia cannot ever out-compete the low cost of labour in other countries, so Australia simply must compete in other ways - such as bolstering innovation driven by a world-class education and training system.
“Even in times of severe drought and a booming mining sector, the agribusiness sector accounts for a full one-third of the Australian economy and is the fourth largest exporter of food.
“Global and domestic food security issues simply cannot be addressed systematically without engaging with the agribusiness sector holistically.”
Mr Duncanson said the ACA is a work in progress, but one of its main structural aims is to have a national industry collaborative approach with State organisations underpinning an overarching national body.
“This means enhancing the power of existing industry peak bodies, not replacing them,” he said.
“The ACA model is counting on their continuance and supporting them - and the ACA will help bolster their membership too.”
He said the ACA would act as a comprehensive vehicle for representing the entire farming and food production sector, rather than fragmented parts.
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