Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (11:55): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, I present the committee's report entitled Australian food story: Feeding the nation and beyond, together with the minutes of proceedings.
Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).
Ms SWANSON: by leave—I present today the report of the inquiry into food security in Australia. Despite Australia being one of the most food-secure countries in the world, recent developments both here at home and abroad have shown that food security presents real and growing challenges for our nation. Food security is not something that any of us can or should take for granted. It requires ongoing attention from industry, the community and government.
There are a variety of threats to food security in Australia. Food security is already a challenge for many in our community—particularly those on lower incomes and in remote communities. COVID-19 disrupted our food supply chains, as did the recent floods. The war in Ukraine has driven up grain prices, and the cost of energy, fuel and fertilisers has also been impacted by this. Outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and lumpy skin disease in Indonesia have highlighted biosecurity risks to our food system—as has the arrival of the varroa mite on Australian shores.
The report's key recommendation is the formulation of a comprehensive national food plan. The national food plan will engage the whole food system, from paddock to plate and beyond. It will deal with the production and distribution of food, supply-chain resilience, access to food, good nutrition, and the management of food waste. The plan will be overseen by a minister for food, supported by a national food council made up of industry and community experts. As part of this process, the food supply chain should be mapped and the vulnerabilities identified and addressed.
While Australia broadly speaking produces far more food than it consumes, there are two production sectors that require attention from government—dairy and seafood. The report recommends the adoption of specific strategies to expand domestic production for both.
Innovation has the capacity to improve and in some directions revolutionise the production of food in Australia and across the world. Opportunities for expanding innovation and value-adding in food production must be pursued. New industries—such as alternative proteins, protected cropping and vertical farming—have the capacity to enhance food security. Governments at all levels should commit to supporting these and other novel approaches to feeding our nation.
There are significant challenges around the cost and availability of inputs such as fuel, energy, labour and fertiliser. These challenges have the capacity to undermine food security. Local manufacturing of inputs and skills development are crucial.
Moreover, we need to encourage people to see the wide range of careers available in the food and agricultural sector at the cutting edge of technological and scientific innovation. Food production is much more than growing crops, even when you are growing crops.
Addressing food waste is a key aspect of improving food security. Tonnes of food worth billions of dollars goes to waste every year. The committee has recommended a number of measures to better manage food waste.
Biosecurity threats represent a real and significant risk to Australia's food security. We must be ever vigilant. The government must ensure that biosecurity is adequately funded, and that everyone understands their responsibility for protecting Australia from pest and disease incursions.
Food insecurity is a major challenge for Australians and affects significant portions of our population. A range of solutions is available, including better education around food and nutrition, providing school meals, researching the nexus between food and health, particularly mental health, and developing community food networks. Remote communities in Australia, particularly in our north, face unique challenges brought about by isolation, inadequate infrastructure, and the impacts of seasons such as the wet season. Resolving these challenges requires investment by governments in community-specific solutions.
I would like to conclude with some words of thanks for those who have contributed to the inquiry. The committee received a great deal of high-quality evidence from across the nation. In fact, we received 188 very high quality submissions. They weren't submissions where there were hundreds of them that were just generated by a computer; these were 188 handwritten and often really deliberative submissions, and I sincerely want to thank the people, groups, researchers and scientists and those who really put their shoulder to the wheel in trying to resolve this issue and made submissions. They came from a full range of perspectives. I would like to thank the individuals and organisations that hosted the committee at various places around the country and who provided insights into their contributions to food security.
I also thank my colleagues—my darling aggies as they were referred to on many of our long trips in vans and cars and charter planes across the length and breadth of the country. You know who you are, my hardworking committee, those of you that were able to come on the trips with us and take the evidence, and we did do a good job, although I know self-praise is no recommendation.
I want to especially thank the unflappable inquiry secretary, Dr Bill Pender, who has put so much work into this report, not only attending all of the hearings and taking incredibly detailed notes but also writing what I really feel is a major piece of policy work leading us forward in this space. Bill, thank you for that.
I also thank our research officer, Ben Vie Vie, who corralled witnesses and kept the show going at all times. Ben, you are an outstanding individual. We just need you to give up smoking and you'll be top of the pops. We want you around for as long as we can, mate. Both Bill and Ben travelled the breadth and width of the country with us.
Fran Denny, you are an exemplar, and your wise counsel as committee secretary is always welcome.
But my final thanks go to those who make the meals for the header and chaser bin drivers who eagerly await the headlights coming across the paddock, signalling the dinner break; those who get up early to drive the forklifts and trucks to the market; those who pilot the planes and boats; those who get up, oh, so very early for the cows and those who don't go to bed at all; those who manage the soil profiles and the overdraft; the kids who hear the conversations about when the rain will come or when it will stop and the impact that'll have on the crop; those who don the suits, do the hair and the make-up to market the commodities and lobby the lawmakers or the price setters.
From our farmers and families to our foodies we all have a role in the Australian food story—feeding our nation and beyond.