Stock Journal continues its election coverage with a look at the electorate of Grey, including incumbent Liberal Rowan Ramsey, Centre Alliance's Andrea Broadfoot and independent Richard Carmody.
What do you consider to be the most critical issue in agriculture in SA and what would you do to address it?
RAMSEY: Farmers are a national success story, nurturing land, growing premium quality crops and generating export income for the nation. We should be celebrated but increasingly are under attack from political activists determined to outlaw any animal production, limit access to new technologies and ban some of our best tools to control weeds, pests and soil erosion.
The Morrison government has proposed laws that would have activists face up to 12 months in jail for disclosing personal information to incite farm trespass.
Government and industry need to be on the front foot in educating those in the city about agriculture's value.
BROADFOOT: Sustaining and protecting our food and water security for the future are critical issues, as is climate change. CA has been proactive in working to protect the Murray-Darling Basin and will introduce legislation to give the federal Parliament clear authority to manage water resources for the benefit of all while protecting the environment. We support policy to address climate change and will work with whichever government to reduce carbon emissions through initiatives, such as energy intensity schemes.
I support farmers' rights to use land for food production above mining rights and believe we need a longer term view of food and water security by protecting the 4 per cent of land available in SA for food production.
CARMODY: The biggest issue in Grey, is the biggest issue in agriculture, is the biggest issue in Australia and that's running the economy incorrectly and not solving unemployment. Everyone knows increasing unemployment is bad, so by extension everyone would have to acknowledge that decreasing unemployment is good. The solution is for the job market not to be left completely as a market. We should fix wages at the lower end of the wage market while leaving the majority of the market as it is. Left as a market, if the unemployment level gets low, competition for employees forces wages higher, which in-turn drives employment back down as businesses offload people to keep costs and profitability reasonable. To avoid this, we need a system and to give jobs to unemployed and underemployed people at a fixed rate, equal to the minimum wage with capped hours meaning the wages will be non inflationary. The extra productive capacity in the economy means money can be created by the government to pay for these wages and taxation will not need to increase.
What is the biggest challenge in Grey at this time?
RAMSEY: Agriculture, revolutionised by mechanisation and the growth of smart technology has brought about a reduction in the workforce, which has eroded the viability of our towns. Schools, hospitals, hotels, emergency services and sporting teams are under constant pressure.
While communities are resilient and adapt, there is a challenge to their social fabric. Retaining doctors has become a major issue and while we are working on a number of measures, including rotating undergrads to support local isolated doctors, this will not be the full answer. I continue to champion Postcode Specific Medicare Provider Numbers, with doctors required to work where needed to gain taxpayer subsidies.
The sustainability of towns will depend on investment in new technologies, added value in our ag product and investment in new tourism ventures. Government support for innovative projects and reduced business tax rates, instant write-offs and new apprentice payment subsidies are all helping our small businesses.
BROADFOOT: The biggest challenge is the weather and its volatility, some are affected by drought while the shifting of the seasons creates uncertainty. There is a distinct lack of planning and investment in road, rail and port infrastructure that farmers use to transport produce, as evident by the short-sighted closure of the Eyre Peninsula rail network.
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Do you think enough is being done to support farmers in tough times, such as drought?
RAMSEY: The drought has been tough and the government has moved quickly, constantly reviewing the response as the drought tightened. More than $6 billion has been committed to supporting farmers and rural communities, including $3.6b to kick-start the Drought Future Fund - which will help replace our 100-year-old Dog Fence. Access to the Farm Household Allowance, including top-up cash payments, have broadened, while concessional loans are key. Grants for training and professional advice and extra resources for the Rural Financial Counselling Service, instant tax write-offs for water and fodder improvements, and the doubling of Farm Management Deposit limits are all supporting farmers. I was particularly pleased to have secured $1 million for 15 drought-affected councils in Grey, ensuring the businesses we need are still here when farming recovers. Until we are sure the drought has broken, we will continue to dig deeper.
CARMODY: The job guarantee I propose is available to everyone. People can go on it and off it as they please, they can also specify how many hours they want to do, up to a maximum of 40 a week. If a drought came along and a farming couple realised there was not going to be a crop worth reaping, they can jump on to the job guarantee and start picking up 40 hours a week as soon as they apply. If a couple do this that is $1600 before tax a week coming in that they would not have otherwise had. It acts as an unconditional, zero-wait time drought assistance.
BROADFOOT: I have heard from many farmers left frustrated while navigating drought-support policy and programs. I am calling for changes to the FHA. More needs to be done to support farmers in drought, including transport subsidies for stock feed and water carting, as well as community wellbeing and mental health supports that ensure people are connected and can help each other.
- Animal Justice Party's Jacqui Edgecombe, Australian Labor Party's Karin Bolton, Pauline Hanson's One Nation's David Stone, United Australia Party's Alexander Warren, and The Greens' Candace Champion were all invited to take part.