SENATOR THE HON BRIDGET MCKENZIE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT
LEADER OF THE NATIONALS IN THE SENATE
SENATOR FOR VICTORIA
SPEECH – COP28 UAE
Mobilizing Global Support for Food Security Responsive Agriculture,
Hosted by Coalition for Conservation
10 December 2023
The Coalition for Conservation (C4C) is in the house and thank you C4C for sponsoring us all at COP 28.
It’s fabulous to be here, and particularly on Ag Day.
Agriculture is one of our key industries in Australia.
We export 80% of what we grow, we’re very good at it, and we’re helping feed the world.
We’ve also got a lot of innovative solutions about how to continue to do that, whilst addressing the challenges of climate change.
I am a former Agriculture Minister born into a farming family.
Sustainable, prosperous, and safe agricultural production is what I’m all about both personally, politically, but also, I think, as a patriot of our great agricultural producing nation.
We’ve seen a rapid transformation of farming practice in Australia through the adoption of ag tech, the change of farming practice, both in cropping and livestock production, and that has led to a reality where we’re able to lower emissions whilst also protecting yield and value.
In fact, we’re hoping to grow agricultural industry to be $100 billion industry by 2030 and we believe we can do that in a low emissions future.
There is a famous poem in Australia, called My Country, that proclaims that we are the “land of droughts and flooding rains”, but also cyclones and bushfires, and that “her beauty and her terror, the wide brown land for me”.
This poem evokes for those of us who care about agricultural production and for farming families and farming communities, is that farmers were the first conservationists long before the environment was weaponized for ideology.
And I think, we’re seeing that even here at COP 28, agriculture is being pitted against effective action on climate change, when they are not mutually exclusive constructs.
We need to feed the world, and we also need to lower emissions.
We can do that together.
The uniqueness of our soils and our weather mean that our primary production methodologies and systems can be applied to other places around the world and that is why we are working so hard to share our science, share our knowledge, share our practice.
And this is not just to improve profitability at home on farm, and as a nation, but to ensure that global food security becomes a reality because of the know-how of the Australian farmer.
It’s exactly what Australia’s famous for.
We are founders of an organization called the Food and Agricultural Organization set up post World War II to ensure the food security became a reality for the world and we do that by backing science and evidence in practice.
It is critical, as I know we’ve got South Africa, here in the house, that when I was over at the FAO a few years ago, the African nations were saying that we must continue to subscribe to science as a basis for designing agricultural production going forward.
Now thanks to the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, we’re seeking to partner with African nations to share our knowledge, particularly with Ag Tech, for them to be able to grow safe, healthy, and commercial qualities of agricultural produce well into the future of a low emissions future.
Ag has to be part of the solution.
Recently we met with representatives from Zambia.
Zambia has a wealth of water resource, which will allow Zambia to produce renewable energy, but their agricultural production is not at a commercial scale.
So, how can we in Australia assist a country like Zambia become the food bowl of Africa with all of that natural resource, when we apply our know-how and they’re the types of partnerships that we’re seeking to grow?
In Australia, we have quite unique government responses.
Our farmers pay levies to government, which the taxpayer matches, and we pool those levies so that together there is quite a significant amount of money that goes into research and development into cattle production, into horticulture products, into cropping systems etc., right across the board of agricultural production.
That system has allowed critical research in the areas of genomics, of water use, of precision ag tech. We’ve developed technologies on how to use our water and soil better as well. And that’s a quite a unique system within the world of “how to fund research”.
I just want to touch very, very briefly on the concerns I mentioned earlier about pitting agriculture and by default, farmers, and their regional communities against effective action on climate.
The reality is that the protein needs of the world are going to grow.
Food security is now a dominant issue in so many parts of the developing world, but labeling the agricultural sector as, and I directly quote from a major newspaper, at COP 28, as “a planet destroying industry”, is not helping is not helping solve the problem.
It also doesn’t address the reality that by saving the planet, but simultaneously starving humanity of food, is not going to be an equitable solution.
Eliminating animal farming, which is seen as the devil, when it comes to climate action, unfortunately, by some, is also forcing Western climate solutions on developing countries and will be a new form of colonialism.
We need to get real about that.
We need to share the gains that we, as more affluent nations have been able to make through science through its adoption on farm, to solve these challenges.
And those global challenges, labor shortage, changing consumer preferences, obviously, climate issues, we need to ensure that we’ve got the connectivity out in the regions, to ensure you can adopt agricultural technologies and precision agriculture, and that’s something the Australian Government’s been very serious about doing in recent past.
One initiative that I think needs more focus is the use of soil and carbon sequestration in soil.
In Australia, we use land-based practices to produce a lot of beef and there’s Macca’s (McDonalds) farms in New South Wales, where they run 3000 head of Angus, and are essentially carbon neutral because of sequestering carbon in their pasture.
So, this whole talk around livestock production being bad for the planet, planet destroying industry, simply isn’t true.
We need to be, I think for those of us that believe in a prosperous, sustainable agricultural sector, and be solving some of the issues of sustainability going forward in a low emissions future, need to be getting the research right, and we need to be promoting that in a much better way.
I just finally wanted to commend everyone here today to for being committed to a profitable agriculture sector.
Australia is going to do its very best to share our know-how with the world, and you’re going to hear from some experts today.
I think COP28 has been a very pragmatic COP, where the reality of addressing climate change and lowering emissions to 2030, is smashing into the laws of economics, the laws of physics, and for us in agriculture, the laws of plant and animal biology, and I’m sure we can solve this conundrum.
We’re a very innovative species.
I look forward to the discussion.