Primary Industries Ministers’ Meeting

Communique—27 March 2020

Primary Industries Ministers discuss COVID-19

Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers held their second meeting via teleconference today on the issues impacting the agriculture sector in light of COVID-19. Ministers reaffirmed their confidence in Australia’s food security. They again thanked our farmers and the many participants in the food supply chain, who are performing a great service to support the Australian community, noting Australia produces enough food for 75 million people. 

Ministers discussed the importance of clear communication about border requirements and exemptions, and the need to ensure free flow of agricultural products and inputs. Ministers agreed on the need to harmonise arrangements between jurisdictions as far as possible, for businesses that operate nationally and employees who travel between jurisdictions.

Ministers discussed Australian and state and territory government stimulus packages and acknowledged the importance of ensuring support for agriculture and businesses generally through these mechanisms.

The President of the National Farmers’ Federation joined the meeting to provide a detailed industry perspective on the impact of COVID-19, and updated Ministers on the NFF’s work to provide assurance to the public about the security of the food supply chain.

Ministers highlighted recent developments in the challenges facing the agriculture sector and rural communities through this crisis.

Agriculture Industry Engagement Officer

Mr Mark Tucker, who has been appointed as the Commonwealth’s Agriculture Industry Engagement Officer, gave an overview of his role. He noted the extensive consultation he has undertaken to date and will continue, including through the Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management’s industry roundtables and discussions with representative bodies and individual businesses. He noted the agriculture industry has been responding to the health requirements associated with COVID-19 including social distancing. He also noted concerns raised regarding labour supply, access to international markets and the operationalisation of border restrictions.

Labour supply

The Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management noted that consideration of options to secure the workforce needed to support the agriculture sector. He encouraged Ministers and industry to work together to ensure that we have clear and consistent protocols in place in terms of safe movement of workers (both domestic and migrant) into regional areas to meet priority labour needs for the agriculture industry. The Australian Government also sought jurisdictions’ endorsement of the clear guidance provided by Food Standards Australia New Zealand to food businesses, including processing businesses, relating to the handling of food and the management of staff who may have COVID 19. This guidance is critical to providing food businesses and the public with confidence in the safety of their food.

Supply chains

Ministers noted jurisdictions continue to work closely with the major supermarket chains to support supply chains. Ministers also reiterated that Australia’s food supply chain remains strong, that there is no food shortage, and have noted that stocking levels will continue to return to normal levels as Australians regain their confidence. All jurisdictions will continue to recognise and support food and fibre production as critical to maintaining Australia’s food security.

Ministers also welcomed advice that saleyards and wool auctions would continue to operate under new arrangements put in place by the industry to meet COVID-19 health requirements.

Trade

Ministers highlighted work underway to support exporters to maintain and find new markets and minimise disruptions to transport and regulatory requirements. Ministers noted positive signs in terms of emerging trade opportunities with China and other markets and the importance of air-freight arrangements to facilitate exports.

Coordination arrangements

Senior representatives of Commonwealth, State and Territory agriculture departments continue to meet weekly, as well as meeting with industry stakeholders at state and national levels. Jurisdictions have also established agricultural coordination mechanisms to ensure issues are addressed and fed into broader considerations.

Future discussions

Ministers acknowledged the significant work the agriculture industry is doing to support Australia during this time, and the role of Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to support them to overcome obstacles. Ministers agreed to meet again next week and regularly thereafter. Ministers will use these meetings as an opportunity to track progress in overcoming obstacles facing the agriculture sector.