Since the introduction of modern agriculture, the quality of Australia’s soils has dropped dramatically. Inappropriate agricultural practices and methods have led to ongoing soil loss, salinity and soil structure across the country, threatening the viability of many rural communities, and endanger Australia’s future food security.
In many areas, irrigation water is dangerously over-allocated, frequently wasteful and used on inappropriate crops, and is becoming more and more scarce, threatening the viability of agriculture in many parts of Australia.
At the same time, agricultural profits have increasingly gone to non-productive commercial sectors. In 1900, 40% of the food dollar went to farmers; now it is less than 15%, as farmers are forced to receive lower and lower prices under threat of cheap imports.
Farm workers, many of them casual labourers, are among the worst paid and suffer some of the worst working conditions of Australian workers, and unemployment and poverty in rural Australia continue to rise. As a result, the average farming age continues to rise because young people are put off by the economic and environmental challenges of farming.
The Socialist Alliance believes that the long-term sustainability of agriculture is an essential component of the well-being of Australia’s economy, society and environment, and must be reformed in order to save it, and the environment, from the catastrophic effects of current practices.
The term “sustainable agriculture” is profoundly misused by governments and agribusiness, while current agricultural research and education is overwhelmingly geared — not to developing truly sustainable agriculture — but to increasing farm outputs and corporate profits at the expense of the environment and farming communities.
The sustainable agriculture that the Socialist Alliance stands for means farming based on natural processes, requiring the development of well functioning agro-ecosystems both above and below ground, and providing nutritious for people’s needs while causing no degradation to the natural environment, and adequate income and working conditions for farmers and farm workers.
Socialist Alliance will:
- Phase out agribusiness farming in the Murray-Darling basin and regulate for sustainable water use in irrigation, including changing land-use practices and water efficiency practices.
- Withdraw free irrigation water licences from wool, lamb and beef farming enterprises, and review irrigated rice and cotton growing licences.
- Phase out pesticides and synthetic fertilisers by and replace by harnessing biological capture of carbon and nitrogen, and reprocessing urban waste, including sewage, into organic fertilisers.
- Encourage mulching, composting and reduced-tillage farming through development grants and incentives.
- Ensure effective management and removal of invasive species, pests and diseases
- Encourage pest and disease minimisation by reliance on factors such as enhanced natural immune systems of plants, related ecological principles.
- Prevent use of genetically modified organisms until exhaustive, independent, testing can definitively prove they do not have potential to cause harm to people, livestock or the environment, and introduce strict laws and fines against contamination.
- Increase and maintain crop diversity.
- Extend public funding of agricultural research and education to ensure the further development of sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable farming communities
Unsustainable farming practices, environmental degradation, economic pressures and the effects of drought and climate change are seriously threatening the viability of our rural and agricultural communities.
The Socialist Alliance believes that most existing farming communities can be made economically and socially viable again, but only through a drastic overhaul of the agricultural sector and its practices. We will consult and work alongside communities in finding solutions to the problems they face, encouraging public participation in both creating and implementing specific the measures needed.
Socialist Alliance will:
- Provide funding, resources and training to farming communities to make the transition to sustainable agriculture.
- Launch a massive, publicly-funded, sustainable agriculture conversion program in combination with sustainable agriculture organisations.
- Rewrite farm employees’ industrial awards to ensure that farm employees, including casuals, receive comparable pay and conditions to other workers.
- Prevent the forced sale of indebted farms and provide alternative funding on the basis of ongoing agricultural viability.
- Encourage national agricultural self-sufficiency, minimising the need for food imports and strengthening the Australian farming sector.
- Encourage farming cooperatives, local farmers markets, and state or cooperative marketing authorities.
- Encourage producer cooperatives to ensure all farmers receive a fair price from processors and retailers.
- Increase Landcare funding assistance for farmers to increase the sustainability of local farms and farming communities.
- Food processing and trading practices that reduce transport, packaging and waste, including encouraging processing in productive regions.
Food security — at home and abroad
There are few things more important than maintaining a secure and reliable supply of healthy food. Australia is more than capable of providing for most of the food needs of its population, and should assisting our neighbours in the region — especially in the developing world — by sharing our sustainable agricultural practices and surplus food in order to improve the well-being of humanity as a whole.
Socialist Alliance will:
- Increase and redirect agricultural research into the sustainability of agricultural ecosystems and regions.
- Restrict the use of prime agricultural land for urban development or mining.
- Increase the scope of agricultural education, including at a primary and secondary school level
- Encourage the creation of urban and peri-urban “city farms”, community and “permaculture” gardens to maximise the proportion of food produced in cities and large towns, improving both food quality and reducing emissions from unnecessary transport.
- Increase foreign aid aimed at developing self-sufficient sustainable food production practices in developing countries.
- Withdraw from the World Trade Organisation and develop fair trade policies with like-minded countries.
- Increase our foreign food aid programs in order to help prevent all unnecessary starvation and malnutrition.
Agriculture and climate change
Agriculture accounts for around 16% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and current agricultural practices — from fertilisers to food transport — consume huge quantities of fossil fuels. Land clearing and outdated forestry practices account for a further 6% of our greenhouse emissions.
Socialist Alliance will:
- Encourage a shift away from fossil-fuel based chemical pesticides and fertilisers.
- Encourage “carbon farming”: increasing the amount of carbon locked in the soil and the ecosystem through methods such as permanent reafforestation and the use of sustainable farming practices such as composting.
- Prevent industrial biofuel or biochar production or broadscale carbon “offsetting” through unsustainable plantations that locks up prime farming land.
- Put an immediate end to land clearing, and support restoration and remediation of native vegetation and ecosystems, reducing the release of greenhouse gases and limiting serious soil degradation.
- Put an end to feed-lots, and develop sustainable grazing practices, in order to improve soil stability, water availability and reduce methane emissions from livestock.
- Risk management for climactic changes that minimise the effects of weather extremes — require agricultural practices to adapt to climactic limitations.