Doorstop at the launch of the Transforming Australian Agriculture with Clean Energy Guide, Pialligo Estate Canberra

Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie

Minister for Agriculture

Joint Media Release

23 September 2019


BRIDGET MCKENZIE: Thanks everyone for coming out today. As Australia's Agriculture Minister, it gives me great pleasure to stand with the National Farmers' Federation and our Energy and Emissions Minister Angus Taylor for the launch of the Transforming Australian Agriculture with Clean Energy Report. A partnership with the NFF and the CEFC to actually give practical guidance to our farmers on how they can a - lower their emissions, and b - importantly, reduce their input costs by getting those power prices down.

For many of our farmers, particularly energy intensive industries such as our poultry, our pork and our dairy industry, rising costs of electricity has hit them hard, particularly when you consider the high grain costs and water costs for many of those sectors. So, having practical guidance for how to get those power bills down but also how to reduce our energy emissions is really, really important and I think it's one other step that our Government is taking in terms of tough action on climate change. We've got over a billion dollars going to Landcare, we've got our agricultural biodiversity program, we've got our Emissions Reduction Fund, we've got a lot of grant programs going into emission-reducing projects right across agriculture. And industry is also taking the lead. We've seen recently the red meat sector go towards 2030 and ensuring that their energy costs are reducing.

So it's great news - again, practical action for those people on the land struggling with high energy costs and reducing their emissions. But for the details, I'll go to the Energy and Emissions Minister.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Thank you, Bridget. Fantastic to be here talking about something that really matters in a very practical way to Australia's farmers, which is the cost of energy. Of course, what we see in this report is 51 very practical ideas about how farmers can reduce their energy costs. We're absolutely committed to a fair deal on energy for all small businesses, including farmers. Those 51 ideas are very practical things that farmers around this region and right across Australia are deploying right now, whether it's solar pumps, precision agriculture - these are things that are happening in agriculture. We want to make sure they're happening as quickly as possible - that farmers are well educated and well briefed on how to use these very practical initiatives.

Now, we're also putting our money where our mouth is. We have a $50 million Energy Efficient Communities Program, which will help small businesses and farmers to make use of initiatives just like these ones. That program was announced before the election. It would be rolled out in the coming months and years and it is practical money available for energy audits and energy efficient investments that can help farmers and other small businesses to reduce their energy costs.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is also helping to finance some of these sorts of initiatives, and that's important in making sure the farmers not only have the ideas necessary to reduce their energy costs to improve the efficiency of their operations but also have the finance and the funding available to be able to do so. That's particularly important at a time like this in drought - we know farmers have been struggling to make ends meet. As they come out of the drought, and they will, they need to be in a position where they can make use of initiatives just like this one. I might turn over to Tony Mahar from the National Farmers Federation.

TONY MAHAR: Thanks Minister, I just wanted to congratulate Clean Energy Finance Corporation for this really practical report. As we have said, farmers face a whole range of challenges – one obviously being at the moment drought – but in these times of drought, in these times of challenges, it can be a time to look at businesses and look at the efficiencies. Australian agriculture is export dominated, export orientated, always will be so we have to be globally competitive. Energy costs can be up to 15 per cent of the farm input costs, whether that's in dairy, whether that's in a piggery, whether that's horticulture. So constantly looking at the businesses reducing their costs will make Australian agriculture globally competitive and will help us get to that $100 billion target that we've set by 2030. So reports like these that are really practical and easy to access and adopt in terms of doing farm energy audits - looking at where the energy is used, where there are efficiencies to be gained, where you can reduce costs goes right across agriculture, right across the country. As I say, right now when some farmers are dealing with severe challenges, it is optimum to look at ways to look at the sustainability, look at reducing costs and ultimately looking at emissions reductions which, again, we have set ourselves a target to be aiming towards carbon neutrality by 2030.

JOURNALIST: So how will the report work? I mean, if there's a sheep and wool producer up the road? What would they do with the report if it appeared under their letterbox tomorrow?

TONY MAHAR: The first recommendation in the report is to do an energy audit. So looking at your business, like any business but a farm business particularly, looking at where the energy is used, how it's used, and are there any opportunities to actually reduce that energy? So whether that's electricity, whether that's gas or whether that’s diesel on farm, looking at all of those energy sources and identifying opportunities to reduce the energy used.

ANGUS TAYLOR: Can I just add to that? The Energy Efficient Communities Program is funding to help farmers and other small businesses to do those energy audits. And there is, for instance, already in there up to $10 million committed to dairy farmers. So this is a very, very important initiative to help farmers to get that work done, to find those opportunities which we know are there.

JOURNALIST: Outside of the farming space, there is a new report out this morning ahead of the global climate summit in New York, basically saying that we need to have much higher targets, [inaudible]. Do you think our current targets still stand, when there is so much global evidence [inaudible]?

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, we have strong targets relative to other countries around the world. We have targets which involve, which incorporate a 50 per cent reduction per capita in emissions and a 65 per cent reduction in energy intensity across the economy. These are very strong targets. They're much stronger than any other countries. And we deliver. We’ve delivered on our 2020 targets, we're 367 million tonnes ahead of those 2020 targets and we've laid out to the last tonne how we will achieve our 2030 targets. So, we're in a strong position. Our focus is on delivering and energy efficiency, we know, is an important way to achieve that. For our 2030 targets, there's 63 million tonnes of energy efficiency initiatives, and that includes in agriculture and other small businesses, and it is why we're promoting exactly these sorts of initiatives.

JOURNALIST: But the science community said that we need to do more now. So the targets are worth throwing out [inaudible].

ANGUS TAYLOR: Well, this is a global issue. It requires coordinated global action and we need to do our bit, and we are doing our bit.

JOURNALIST: Can you talk us through a bit more of the Climate Solutions Package then? With the electric vehicle strategy? What does that entail?

ANGUS TAYLOR: It's a $3.5 billion package and it is focused on that remaining 328 million tonnes of abatement we knew as of December last year we needed to find to achieve our 2030 targets. We've laid out a plan, a costed plan, through to 2030 - 11 years ahead of time. Now, that includes very important initiatives. 103 million tonnes from the Climate Solutions Fund. 63 million tonnes from energy efficiency initiatives, just like the ones we're talking about here today. 25 million tonnes from our hydro projects like Snowy 2.0. We're also seeing the highest level of investment in renewables in the world here in Australia. In the last month, we saw 25 per cent of our electricity for the first time being generated through renewables – look, there is enormous investment going on here. It has to be balanced, and we will not trash the economy. I tell you the one thing we don’t do is adopt Labor’s reckless 45 per cent emissions reduction targets which we know get the balance wrong between the economy and emissions reduction.

BRIDGET MCKENZIE: From agriculture's perspective, you know, there's 770 projects already on the books that looked around regenerative practices, a whole raft of changes to how farmers farm and how processors process to actually help meet that and reduce emissions.

ANGUS TAYLOR: How good is this rain for farmers? [Laughter]

JOURNALIST: Speaking of farmers, there's been a bit of blow back on social media from rural communities about the Prime Ministers announcement to commit $150 million, the space announcement. What do you say to those who would argue that would be money better spent helping drought-affected Australians?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE: Well, we've put $7 billion on the table to our drought-affected farmers, their communities and the recovery from drought when it rains, as we know it will. You know, we've been able to achieve that without putting a levy on taxpayers. The $150 million announced for our participation in the space supply chain will drive innovation and scientific discoveries here in Australia that we will be using for decades and decades to come. I'm confident that the support we've provided to our drought-affected farmers and their communities. It won't just stop with this $7 billion and the suit of initiatives we've already got on the table. We're constantly reviewing this and we'll be standing by our farmers and their communities, not just now in the intensity of the drought, but right through the years with covering help.

JOURNALIST: Could I just ask, it looks like over the weekend some vandals have dumped some soil in one of the canals, maybe to block environmental water from heading towards South Australia. What do you say to those who might be involved in that?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE: I haven't seen that. Yeah, sorry.

JOURNALIST: Bridget, will the Federal Government consider bringing forward the Drought Future Fund?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE: Well, we only passed that a couple of weeks ago. This obviously is a future focused initiative. Right now we are rolling out [inaudible] for assistance right at the table – we’ve got our Drought Communities Program, which is assisting those towns and councils that are affected by drought to ensure their small businesses have money churning through them to ensure that they're sustainable going forward. We have the mental health supports, which are absolutely uncapped and will ensure that our farmers and their service suppliers are ready to go when the rain comes and can lift productivity as soon as possible. So when we ask about the Future Drought Fund that is actually a fund to assist us with the next drought. We've got initiatives on the table right now to assist. But now we are obviously working hand-in-hand with state governments, who are responsible also for assisting our drought-affected communities and farmers.

JOURNALIST: And when are we going to see some new water projects rolled out on a national level?

BRIDGET MCKENZIE: Well, as soon as possible. You know, I don't know how many times we can say it: we're standing here, the money's on the table Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria. We want to get around and build the water infrastructure, we want to build the dams, but unfortunately the Constitution forbids the Federal Government from getting in its graders and diggers and heading out and starting work. We need to partner with the state governments. Enough of the talk. Now it's time for action, and we look forward to those projects being started ASAP to help us prepare for the next drought.

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction