I formally commenced at the department on 19 September 2013 and regard it as a great honour to be appointed secretary of such a busy and diverse portfolio. In that context, I would like to thank my predecessors, Mr Andrew Metcalfe AO and Dr Conall O’Connell, for their able leadership of during the 2012–13 reporting period.
Our portfolio industries—agriculture, fisheries and forestry—contribute more than $51 billion to the Australian economy and employ around 334 000 Australians. They provide us with the vast majority of our food, and feed tens of millions of people overseas. Our farmers, graziers and foresters have stewardship of 63 per cent of Australia’s land, and our fisheries area, covering around 10 million square kilometres, is one of the world’s largest. This department helps these industries be sustainable, profitable and successful.
We are an organisation with around 4500 staff, who undertake a large and diverse number of roles. Much of the department’s work is in the public eye, in areas such as live animal exports, horticultural imports, grants programs and research and analysis. This of itself is challenging and I acknowledge how the department conducts itself with strong respect for the Parliament and according to the APS Values.
During the year, the department pursued its goals of promoting the sustainable use of Australia’s natural resources; bolstering the productivity and competitiveness of the agriculture, fisheries, forestry and related industries; and building markets and enabling trade by helping people and goods move in and out of Australia. The department pursues these goals while managing external biosecurity risks to Australia, thereby supporting our enviable animal and plant health status.
It was a year of change with a focus on major reform agendas to underpin the longer term prosperity of the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries.
The Standing Council on Primary Industries formally agreed on the direction of the reform of drought policy, to assist farmers, their families and regional communities to prepare for and manage the long-term effects of drought and a variable climate. The department also developed the Farm Finance package, which was designed to provide support and assistance to help viable farmers manage their current financial pressures.
The department continued intensive work to finalise Australia’s first ever National Food Plan, which was announced on 25 May 2013, looking at our food system from paddock to plate.
Significant progress was made on implementing regulatory reforms to live animal export arrangements. On 1 January 2013, the department completed the implementation of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) . More than 2.8 million animals have been exported since the implementation of ESCAS.
The year saw the introduction and consideration by Parliament of several major pieces of legislation. This was the culmination of work across the department during the year. The Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012 came into effect in November 2012. The legislation provides legally binding assurances to consumers buying timber or timber products that the timber has been sourced legally, whether imported or domestically produced. Regulations prescribing due diligence requirements for timber importers and processors were released in May 2013.
The Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Act 2012 came into effect in December 2012, effectively completing the deregulation of wheat export markets and the winding up of Wheat Exports Australia.
The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Act 2013 was passed by Parliament in June 2013. In addition, the Standing Council on Primary Industries agreed to an intergovernmental agreement on agricultural and veterinary chemicals to implement a national framework that will improve consistency and reduce compliance costs across state boundaries.
In June 2013, Parliament passed legislation to implement key reforms to streamline sugar industry research, development and extension, to take effect from 1 July 2013. Other legislation was introduced to implement an industry proposal to merge the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation with Wine Australia from 1 July 20141.
Work continued on the biosecurity reform agenda, including activities under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity and significant progress toward constructing the new state-of-the-art post entry quarantine facility in Victoria. New biosecurity legislation, comprising the Biosecurity Bill 2012 and the Inspector-General of Biosecurity Bill, was introduced into Parliament in late 2012.1 Draft regulations relating to the Inspector-General of Biosecurity and biosecurity import risk assessments were released in May 2013.
Other reforms implemented during the year include the development and launch of the Rural Research and Development Policy Statement, which includes a series of changes to the Research and Development Corporations to drive productivity, investment and adoption of innovative practices.
The first comprehensive review of the Commonwealth’s fisheries arrangements in 20 years was completed in late 2012. The Borthwick review was complemented by reviews of the Commonwealth Harvest Strategy Policy and Guidelines and the Commonwealth Bycatch Policy.
Work continued on bedding down reforms to deliver more efficient export certification and inspection services for the dairy, fish, grain, horticulture, egg, poultry and meat export industries.
The department worked closely with other agencies to deliver key government policies and programs. This included the successful collaboration with the Department of the Environment to design the next five-year phase of Caring for our Country, including a new Sustainable Agriculture stream administered by this department.
The department continued to manage and deal with immediate issues, as well as day-to-day work. This included maintaining and securing market access for a wide range of Australian agricultural, food, fisheries and forestry products overseas, such as access for lamb to India and horticulture products to the Philippines. Increased trade with China was a particular focus; the department secured access for cherries, reopened the canola trade and significantly increased beef exports to the Asian region.
The department also expanded its overseas network, including an additional senior officer in Indonesia, Australia’s third largest export market.
Work continued on rolling out activities under the Carbon Farming Initiative and Carbon Farming Futures to encourage landholders to take up emissions reduction technology and participate in carbon offset markets.
Our staff, working at Australia’s entry points and in our regional offices, facilitated millions of standard clearances of people, goods and vessels through Australia’s quarantine system. High profile clearances included Australia’s returning Olympic and Paralympic teams and the champion racehorse Black Caviar.
The department’s emergency preparedness and response arrangements continue to be strengthened and tested. We supported the states and territories with responses to animal and plant pest and disease outbreaks including red imported fire ants, Asian honey bees, avian influenza, paramyxovirus in pigeons and swine flu.
In the course of their work, our staff appeared before and provided submissions to various parliamentary committee inquiries. These included biosecurity, illegal logging and agricultural and veterinary chemicals legislation; potential imports of fresh pineapples from Malaysia; and antimicrobial resistance.
In delivering these achievements, our department worked closely with representatives and individuals from the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors, industry bodies and the portfolio’s research and development corporations. The views of our stakeholders are instrumental in informing the work of the department.
Paul Grimes PSM