Australia faces a time of great uncertainty. With recent extreme floods in northern NSW and SEQ, combined with the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and now the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war, food prices are rising sharply. Our most vulnerable community members will be heavily impacted, and food insecurity will certainly rise in 2022. We believe that these issues should feature prominently in debates in the forthcoming Federal election, and urge our members and readers to engage with their local candidates to seek their positions on food security and food system sustainability and resilience.
Last November, we wrote to the leaders and key portfolio holders of the three major political parties in Australia, asking them to state their parties' platforms and policy commitments on key issues of concern to Sustain and our members. We have used the answers provided to our questions, together with our own analysis of the policy positions of the parties, to create an election scorecard for our members and supporters to use during the election campaign.
In our letter, we stated that "our members support policy levers that shift activity towards a fair food system that has as its goal above all else, the health of the community. Sustain would like to see the incoming Government realise the potential of regenerative urban agriculture and edible gardening to address a number of significant community issues and to deliver outcomes through the simple act of growing nutritious food. The growing urban agriculture sector in Australia is ready to act and step up to this challenge, as evidenced by our Pandemic Gardening survey which received over 9000 responses in 2020.
We noted that "diet-related ill-health and mental illness cost Australia around $200 bn every year. Climate change costs are anticipated to grow, with extreme weather events alone costing the Australian economy $35 billion over the past decade. While Australia ranks as one of the most food secure countries in the world at a macro level, at the community level vulnerable communities disproportionately experience barriers to access nutritionally adequate, safe, and affordable food. Food insecurity is associated with poor mental and physical health with approximately 800,000 adults per year experiencing food insecurity."
We stated that "the priorities identified below will assist our sector to contribute to the important goals of supporting preventative health, climate resilience and food security measures. We seek your parties' commitments and policy positions on the following priority areas identified by our members:
• Community gardens: What is your commitment to expand productivity and engagement of the existing network of an estimated 1000+ community gardens in all regions of Australia?
• Education, training and workforce strategy: What is your strategy to improve skills-based training and apprenticeships in urban agriculture, market gardening and related fields?
• Community development and food security: Has your party committed to any urban food-based skills building and food security projects either nationally or as pilot initiatives?
• School edible gardens: What funding is your party committing towards edible garden establishment and maintenance in the public school system?
• Land access and infrastructure: What is your position on facilitating access to under-utilised land and associated start-up support for urban farmers and community growers?
• Research: What is your position on funding research collaborations to document the impact and benefits of urban agriculture and edible gardening?
• Fast food legislation: What is your position on prohibiting through legislation fast food outlets within 1 km of educational or health care facilities?
• Transitional support: What measures will your party take to support market gardeners and farmers to transition to sustainable and regenerative forms of horticulture and agriculture?
We received the responses set out below. Please note: We did not recieve a response from Australian Labor Party representatives.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care
Dr Nick Rose, Executive Director, Sustain: The Australian Food Network
13 DEC 2021
I refer to your correspondence of 12 November 2021 concerning the Australian Government's position on sustainable food systems, urban agriculture and edible gardening.
The Government recognises the importance of sustainable and fair food systems. The policy position on the priority areas you raise in your letter has not yet been finalised. However, I can assure you that Australia supports the United Nations' goal of delivering more sustainable, productive and resilient agricultural and food systems for producers and consumers alike.
In 2021, Australia participated in the UN Food Systems Summit, including hosting a series of national Food Systems Summit Dialogues and taking part in the Pre-Summit and the Summit.
Australia has signed on to three Coalitions of Action to tackle global food systems issues:
• The Global Sustainable Livestock Coalition: This coalition is led by the World Farmers Organisation and supports collaboration and sharing of best practice in all aspects of the value chain, including policy, production, trade and communication to support decision making for sustainable livestock production.
• The Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation: This coalition is led by the USA and promotes agricultural productivity growth that builds the social, economic and environmental sustainability of food systems.
• Food is Never Waste: This coalition is led primarily by the World Resources Institute and builds collaboration between relevant stakeholders to minimise food loss and waste and create more sustainable and resilient food systems.
People are a significant part of the Government's Delivering Ag2030 strategy. The Government is committed to making sure people and their communities-right across the agriculture industry and supply chain- have the support, infrastructure and skills to do their jobs.
For the horticulture industry to be competitive it requires efficient production techniques and sustainable natural resource management to meet market trends and consumer preferences.
The interconnection between economic, social and environmental outcomes are core to sustainability of Australian-grown horticulture and its people. Australian horticulture is continuously adopting environmentally sustainable tools and systems, as an outcome of industry-specific Research, Development & Extension projects enabled through industry levies and Government contributions. All these contribute to the objective for agriculture to reach $100 billion by 2030.
The Government is also committed to educating young Australians about agriculture. It has funded initiatives under the Educating kids about Agriculture initiative that aim to increase children's understanding of where and how their food and fibre is produced, and the role and importance of agriculture in Australia.
• The Kids to Farms program facilitates primary school visits to farms and other primary production worksites to learn about agriculture production, sustainability practices and land stewardship.
• The iFarms program takes mini-farms into suburban high schools. iFarms are mobile, high-tech 'mini farms ' that are fully integrated and computerised and used as an educational platform to teach students about the use of water, land and energy in food production.
The Government recognises the importance of healthy food environments to support the health and wellbeing of Australians. The Government undertakes a wide range of activities and initiatives that support Australians to access and consume healthier foods. These include:
• The Healthy Food Partnership which support the food industry to make changes to improve the food supply
• The Health Star rating system to assist Australians to make healthier packaged foods choices.
• Development of the National Preventive Health Strategy (Strategy), which will provide the overarching, long-term approach to prevention in Australia over the next 10 years. The Strategy will focus on system wide, evidence-based approaches to reducing poor health and improving wellbeing at all stages of life, including consumption of a healthy diet.
Improving the composition of the food supply in Australia to contribute to reducing chronic disease related to overweight and obesity is an objective of the Food Regulatory System.
Work currently underway includes development of nationally consistent menu board labelling at standard food outlets. In addition, actions will be considered to limit children's exposure to advertising and marketing of unhealthy foods, and to improve commercial infant and toddler foods.
Thank you for writing on this matter.
Thank you for your letter addressed to Senator Rice seeking further information on our policies. Your letter has been forwarded onto me and I am pleased to provide you with responses to your questions below:
1. Community gardens: What is your commitment to expand productivity and engagement of the existing network of an estimated 1000+ community gardens in all regions of Australia?
Food is a necessity and a fundamental human right and one of life's great pleasures. We believe that locally produced, sustainable urban agriculture is at the forefront of the global sustainable city and urban movement. The Greens will prioritise local food resilience by supporting the development of a National Food Security Strategy to consolidate the individual food planning in states and territories.
2. Education, training and workforce strategy: What is your strategy to improve skills-based training and apprenticeships in urban agriculture, market gardening and related fields?
The Greens are committed to a well-funded and resourced public TAFE system to ensure excellent skills-based training is available for everyone in our community. TAFE should be properly-funded and free. The Greens will transform vocational education and training by removing federal funding from for-profit private providers and reinvesting funds into the public system. We support improved minimum wages and employment standards for trainees and apprentices.
3. Community development and food security: Has your party committed to any urban food-based skills building and food security projects either nationally or as pilot initiatives?
The Greens will always promote community opportunities for skills development, including food security projects. We can look to the lead of state Greens policies, such as the ACT Greens with their Food for All policy. This initiative actively supports community groups to compost, form cooperatives and access community garden grants.
4. School edible gardens: What funding is your party committing towards edible garden establishment and maintenance in the public school system?
The Greens are committed to fully-funding public schools. Under the Greens plan, all public schools will reach 100 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard by 2023. The Greens will also invest in capital grants for schools to improve school infrastructure, which may be invested in maintenance of school gardens and grounds. For too long, school infrastructure has not received proper federal funding to ensure facilities can be maintained and improved.
5. Land access and infrastructure: What is your position on facilitating access to under-utilised land and associated start-up support for urban farmers and community growers?
The Greens will empower community voices, and improve how grant funding is allocated so it’s transparent and meets genuine community needs. We will support farmers and landowners to create and restore habitat on private land. By using the Regional Development Australia fund, we can encourage and promote funding for states and territories to coordinate and integrate food innovation.
6. Research: What is your position on funding research collaborations to document the impact and benefits of urban agriculture and edible gardening?
The Greens have demonstrated support for research funding in a wider range of innovative agriculture areas. For example, we have been at the forefront of promoting hemp, cannabis and seaweed farming. Expanding our range of support, we would always look for ways to support increased exploration of urban agriculture and edible gardening.
7. Fast food legislation: What is your position on prohibiting through legislation fast food outlets within 1 km of educational or health care facilities?
The Greens support the promotion of healthy choices, including a ban on the advertising of junk food and other ultra-processed foods, on media platforms and content aimed at children. We also support for initiatives that increase local product quality and nutrition, local value-adding and local distribution, fair prices for farmers, and the promotion of Australian produce to the Australian community, including urban agricultural initiatives.
We do not have a official or formal position on the specific legislation proposed here but in principle we support well-evidenced public health measures co-designed with community which achieve good health outcomes.
8. Transitional support: What measures will your party take to support market gardeners and farmers to transition to sustainable and regenerative forms of horticulture and agriculture?
To accelerate the transition, the Greens will create Green Agriculture Australia, a $250 million R&D centre that will invest in researching, developing and deploying sustainable farming solutions and supporting regenerative agriculture approaches.
This will include organic, biodynamic and regenerative agriculture, but also research into other novel technologies such as plant-based and synthetic meat and dairy alternatives, methane reducing feed supplements for livestock, precision agriculture and new biological solutions for increasing carbon drawdown.
We will also support organic farming by reforming organic labelling laws in Australia, so that consumers can be sure that the food they are buying is truly organic. We will also invest $2 million in supporting states and territories to create Organic Advisory Services for farmers, which would support farmers in understanding organic alternatives and certification requirements.
Authorised by Dr Nick Rose, on behalf of Sustain: the Australian Food Network, 555 La Trobe St, Melbourne VIC 3004.