12 January 2022 The Weekly Times

The global uncertainty that has developed since the COVID-19 pandemic has been dominating the headlines for some time now.

Despite the devasting impact felt across the nation, there have also been moments of great opportunity. One part of our economy where the greatest opportunity has been experienced is agriculture.

Australia’s agriculture industry has adapted admirably against arbitrary tariffs and restrictions on goods such as beef, wine and barley. Producers have shown a strong ability to diversify their export destinations and establish roots in new markets.

But the other side of the agriculture equation – the inputs required to produce all the goods we are exporting – is not nearly as diversified and has not received nearly as much attention from the federal Liberal-National Government, and this is a very real threat to this important part of our national economy.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s most recent  snapshot of the industry shows that Australian agriculture accounts for 11% of all our goods and services exports. Including value adding processes, agriculture, forestry and fisheries contribute 12% to GDP – approximately $150 billion every year.

Agriculture has always been part of our national history and a source of prosperity. Given its importance to our economy generally, ready access to necessary inputs should be part of national security and economic sovereignty discussions.

Australian businesses are already feeling the impact of global supply chain disruptions amid a perfect storm of factors from COVID including increased consumer spending, labour shortages and climate related disasters. China’s export ban on urea has recently been added to the mix.

Urea, also a key ingredient in AdBlue, is used by farmers as a source of nitrogen for growing plants. The industry consumes 1.9 million tonnes per year and 1.7 million tonnes of this is imported. 80% of Australia’s urea supplies come from China.

Moves to reduce urea exports have exposed how reliant sections of the Australian economy are on the global supply chain, as the Morrison Government has been left scrambling to find alternative sources of the essential fertiliser. While a short-term plan to locally manufacture urea has been announced, this is a far away fix to a significant and much broader problem.

Our farmers have become more dependent on China for their crop sprays, and the wood pallets that are such an important part of our food supply chain are short in supply because the Coalition Government has a failed forestry products policy. With soaring global fertiliser prices this will only add to inflationary pressures.

The pandemic has demonstrated that Australia must proactively take steps to secure its supply of key economic inputs, and this will require scaling up domestic manufacturing. That is why an Albanese Labor Government will work across industries to develop the capabilities we need to ensure Australia’s supply chains remain resilient.

This should not be mistaken for a foreign policy that will see Australia withdrawn from the international community – our country has and always will be a trading nation. But it is prudent that as a trading nation we take steps to secure all aspects of our supply chains, including necessary inputs – and where these inputs can be made here, they should be.

Australia must be a country that makes things. After almost a decade of sending manufacturing offshore and neglecting Australian workers, we’ve seen the consequences: fewer jobs, missed opportunities, and a nation left exposed when the coronavirus hit. Federal Labor will rebuild our proud manufacturing industry, and build a future made right here in Australia.