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Ag minister talks will continue: Joyce

Anna Vidot, Tuesday December 17, 2013 - 17:33 EDT
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Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says meetings with his state and territory counterparts will continue, despite a COAG agreement to abolish the Standing Council on Primary Industries. - ABC

The Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says scrapping regular meetings of state and territory agriculture ministers is part of his government's bid to bring the Budget into line.

On Friday, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to "streamline" the number of COAG Councils from 22 to eight, and on Tuesday Mr Joyce confirmed that the Standing Council on Primary Industries (SCoPI) was one that would get the chop.

The SCoPI brought together federal, state and territory agriculture ministers for regularly scheduled discussions on issues such as national drought policy reform, intergovernmental biosecurity agreements, a foot and mouth disease action plan and other pest and disease eradication programs.

Mr Joyce says he'll still meet with his fellow ministers on an ad hoc basis to discuss those issues, most likely once a year.

He said the decision to streamline the councils is a cost-saving measure, but couldn't say exactly how much the government would save by scrapping SCoPI.

"That's a good question, and if you give me a day I'll get you an answer, but I just don't have that at my disposal sitting at a desk at an airport," Mr Joyce said.

"Everything you do with regards to saving money and streamlining things, if you say, well I'm not going to worry about the little ones, well the next thing is people are arguing about what's little and what's big.

"You've got to try and save money wherever you can."

News that SCoPI would end appeared to come as a shock to many observers yesterday, including the offices of the state and territory agriculture ministers.

But today, Mr Joyce said he didn't think his ministerial counterparts would have been surprised.

"No, I don't think so.

"It mightn't be what they wished, I can understand that totally, but I don't think it's caught them by surprise," he said.

The communique agreed by COAG on Friday said that "where there are important areas of Commonwealth and State co-operation outside the Council system, Ministers may meet on an ad hoc basis."

A spokesman for South Australia's Labor Government said the state "expects that primary industries will be one of these important areas and will be seeking to ensure that meetings of primary industries ministers continue to occur."

The Agriculture Minister in Queensland's LNP Government was relaxed about the change today, with John McVeigh telling the ABC Country Hour that communication will continue, even thought the council has been scrapped.

"This is simply a streamlining exercise, a red tape reduction exercise so I'm happy to work on that basis," Mr McVeigh said.

"The new Federal Government is just establishing a new communication format, I've got no problems with that.

"The scrapping of meetings, that were previously under that standing council on primary industries, does not mean that state ministers and the federal minister won't talk to one another. We do that all the time.

"We will still meet, we will still correspond, we'll still phone each other regularly, the communication continues regardless of this decision, no problems at all."

The Liberal Victorian Government's Primary Industry Minister, Peter Walsh, said in a statement that the decision to scrap SCoPI, "is not going to stop Victoria from engaging with the Federal Minister and our state counterparts on matters of mutual interest."

"I'm very confident we can all continue working cooperatively and effectively to advance the national agenda of primary industries," he said.


- ABC

© ABC 2013

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