In November 2023, a the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture chaired by Meryl Swanson MP and supported by staff of the Department of the House of Representatives and a slew of industry submissions, published  a report ‘Australian Food Story: Feeding the Nation and Beyond, Inquiry into food security in Australia. The Report covered 4 issues: National production, consumption and export of food; Access to key inputs such as fuel, fertiliser and labour, and their impact on production costs; The impact of supply chain distribution on the cost and availability of food; and The potential opportunities and threats of climate change on food production in Australia.

The Report is noteworthy for 5 reasons:
1.  It is authored by the HR Standing Committee without significant Departmental input
2.  It is holistic in its consideration covering not just food production, but also included food security, biosecurity, sustainability, recycling, transport, and innovation
3.  It includes significant industry input which is available to Departments but often not as broad or as deeply utilised
4.  It integrates a comprehensive higher level perspective of supply chain dependencies that underpin food security as the overarching theme
5.  It is long-form and not summarised up into high level bite-sized statements that are not-actionable for roadmap implementers typical of Departmental / management consulting reports.
6.  It has no obvious bias or marketing spin which is refreshing despite its length.      .

Whilst the content and Recommendations are important, This Report emphasises 4 challenges for current Government policy-makers and implementers.

1.  Sector strategies are critical to supply chain understanding and successful strategy implementation. BUT setting and implementing sector policies is fractured because it cuts across multiple Government Departments and Ministerial responsibilities often with different long-term and short-term portfolio priorities and budget allocations.

2.  Sector strategies must be set nationally because agriculture and food security is a national not a state consideration. Implementation can be undertaken at State level with consideration of development priorities (cost/benefit) and national / State budgets needed for implementation.  BUT sector strategies cut across Australia’s current Federal structure and have a lower visibility as a result.  Water allocation is a prime example.

3. To implement sector strategies likely requires a fundamental realignment of Departmental structures and responsibilities in line with sector strategies and alignment of Federal and State responsibilities.  And alignment of multi-election cycle bipartisanship. BUT lets not mention REFORM.  Canada has created a Ministry of Food and a bureaucratic structure that specifically involves industry in implementation for this specific purpose.  So we should have less angst about embarking on something new.

4. Map all aspects of the sector supply chain and measure what gets done.  This is standard stuff.  BUT its hard to do effectively when sector responsibility is split by 5+ Federal Departments and 5+ State Departments into 25+ smaller boxes of jealously guarded Ministerial and bureaucratic responsibility.

Helpfully, the Standing Committee implicitly accepted that Governments are a part of the problem and have embedded their perspectives in a raft of helpful recommendations for Government. If the Committee had gone further and identified the deadweight loss to the Agricultural sector of poorly aligned Government resources, this cost is likely multiple $Bns and multiple $Bns wasted on priorities that do not matter.  How much further advanced would the Agriculture sector be if Government policy was aligned and cooperative Federalism was a reality? BUT that is perhaps too ambitious. Yes, Prime Minister.

The full Report is here:

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