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Under my skin: New ag minister explains why job means so much to him


The new agriculture minister has outlined labour shortage, biosecurity and “skyrocketing” input prices as his short term priorities in his new portfolio.


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In his first major address as minister Murray Watt told a horticulture conference in Brisbane that climate change, sustainability and improving agriculture’s value were his longer term concerns.

“I already can see that workforce, biosecurity and input costs are probably the three most serious short term challenges … We’re onto it … and I’m up for any ideas,” Senator Watt said on Wednesday.

He said he recognised that farmers are on the frontline of climate change and can take advantage of the opportunities that exist in agriculture “to make a buck out of making adjustments to deal with climate change.”

He told more than one thousand producers that while he is not a farmer, “farming is in my blood” and his family had a long connection with agriculture.

“I’d like to think myself as someone who is as comfortable in the city as I am in the country,” he said.

The Queensland senator told the packed audience that he realised the current labour shortage was a huge concern for the horticulture industry.

“It’s arguably the single biggest challenge facing hort in particular in our country at the moment,” he said.

Prior to the election Labor committed to dumping the coalition’s “agriculture visa” in favour of expanding the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.

Senator Watt said feedback from stakeholders had been that the expansion of PALM was welcomed but more needs to be done to attract skilled and semi skilled workers to agriculture.

“I’ll be frank with you. There’s more that we could be doing around that as the new government…to solve those challenges,” he said.

He wants to prioritise the training and employing Australians in agriculture.

“I am very much open to discussion with the industry about what else we can do around skilled migration in particular to meet some of the challenges that we have,” he said.

Senator Watt also met with several growers at the conference including the CEO of one of Australia’s top vegetable producers and suppliers, Fresh Select.

John Said urged the minister to reconsider his position on the agriculture visa, and said the expansion of the PALM scheme was not enough.

“We remain hopeful that something can be done,” he said.

“I think an ag visa is critical to the industry, talking about skilled workers and talking about the opportunity for some of those potential immigrants to come in as permanent residents in the future.

“I’m sure (Senator Watt) will hear the same message from a number of people that he’s meeting here today …we need an ag visa.”

On Tuesday, the new minister made his first visit to a cotton farm near Emerald in central Queensland.

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