Communique—19 March 2020
Agriculture Ministers discuss COVID-19
Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers met today via teleconference to discuss the issues impacting the agriculture sector in light of COVID-19. Ministers reaffirmed the significance of the agriculture sector in Australia, particularly in terms of food security, and noted that Australia is in the fortunate position of producing enough food for 75 million people with a population of only 25 million.
Ministers praised the resilience of the agriculture sector, recognising that COVID-19 has come shortly after the bushfires and floods which impacted particular regions in Australia and the widespread and enduring impact of drought.
Ministers provided an overview of stimulus packages announced in their jurisdictions to support the agriculture sector and businesses more generally. The President of the National Farmers’ Federation joined the meeting to provide a detailed industry perspective on the impact of COVID-19.
Ministers highlighted a number of challenges facing the agriculture sector and rural communities generally.
Ministers discussed a range of challenges for the sector including the reliability of labour supply especially at peak production and processing times. The Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management noted he is well advanced in discussions with his Commonwealth Ministerial counterparts on options to provide more flexibility in visa arrangements for those employed in agriculture.
Ministers noted jurisdictions are working closely with the major supermarket chains to support supply chains, such as reducing restrictions on trucking movements. Ministers also reiterated that Australia’s food supply chain remains strong, that there is no food shortage, and that Australians should stop panic buying. Jurisdictions will support critical food processing establishments to continue production, including by having the necessary business continuity and inspection arrangements in place.
Ministers noted that around two thirds of Australia’s agriculture is exported. Ministers highlighted work underway to support exporters to maintain and find new markets and minimise disruptions to transport and regulatory requirements.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment provided an overview of the national coordination mechanisms being used to ensure the concerns of the sector are understood and addressed. Senior representatives of Commonwealth, State and Territory agriculture departments also meet weekly, as well as meeting with industry stakeholders at state and national levels.
Ministers acknowledged the significant work the agriculture industry is doing to support Australia during this time, and the role of Commonwealth and State Governments to support them to overcome obstacles. Ministers agreed to meet again on Friday 27 March 2020 and regularly thereafter. Ministers will use these meetings as an opportunity to track progress in overcoming obstacles facing the agriculture sector.