The NSW Government continues to show a lack of understanding for the role agriculture can play in the state’s economy.
This was emphasised yet again when Premier Mike Baird last week announced a ‘target of one million new jobs for the future’.
Agriculture barely rated a mention in this report, despite the fact the latest ABS data showed agricultural production contributed $11 billion to the state’s economy in 2013-14. Of this, irrigated agriculture made up $3.5 billion, or 32 percent.
Speak Up campaign spokesperson Vicki Meyer said it again highlights the huge task that confronts rural NSW, trying to convince decision-makers of the untapped economic potential that could play a significant role in creating jobs.
“Our Premier says creating jobs is his number one priority, yet he cannot seem to get his head around the opportunities that are being wasted.
“In the Murray region of New South Wales we have the infrastructure in place, thanks to past governments, and the ability to generate more wealth for our state. All we need is a bit more government support so we can grow the food and fibre which generates our economic activity,” Ms Meyer said.
She added agriculture was under-sold in the Jobs for the Future report, and water barely rated a mention. The importance of water to agriculture, and as a consequence job creation, was totally ignored.
“We find it quite bizarre that the Premier can adopt such lofty job targets and his Agriculture Minister Niall Blair can tell us the state wants to increase agricultural productivity by 30 percent in just four years, but neither of them can grasp the resource on which agriculture is based.
“If they simply adjust current policy so affordable productive water is available, parts of the state will thrive. Unfortunately, at present neither New South Wales or the nation has effectively balanced management of this precious resource to make the most of agricultural productivity,” Ms Meyer said.
She said it was incredulous that the NSW Government does not seem to appreciate the link between agriculture, water and jobs despite the fact it’s “staring them in the face”.
The evidence includes a recent Murray-Darling Basin Authority report which showed 35 percent of agricultural jobs had been lost in the Northern Basin from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, let alone other obvious effects.
“In our region last year’s low allocation meant 50 jobs were lost at SunRice, plus others in various industries and service providers which rely on agriculture.
“This was a prime example of what happens when insufficient water is available for food and fibre production.”
Ms Meyer said the Speak Up campaign would welcome a visit to the region by Premier Baird in an attempt to show him first hand the massive potential for job creation that exists here.
“The Murray region, and other parts of rural and regional New South Wales, can do more than their share of ‘heavy lifting’ to help Mr Baird achieve his target to create one million jobs.
“But we can’t do it when we have to deal with government policy and its implementation that is taking away productivity and jobs, instead of creating them.
“It highlights how easy it is to have the rhetoric, but much harder to have action,” she said, adding the Murray Valley was home to innovative and efficient farmers who understand the importance of getting water resourcing and management right.
“We keep waiting, in the hope our government will eventually realise what we can offer.’’