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Confusion over future of agriculture ministers forum

Anna Vidot, Monday December 16, 2013 - 12:46 EDT

The Standing Council on Primary Industries (SCoPI), which brought together the state, territory and federal agriculture ministers for regular meetings, appears to have been scrapped by COAG.

On Friday, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to "streamline" its 22 councils to just eight, which would be "refocussed on COAG's priorities over the next 12 to 18 months".

None of the remaining eight standing councils is focused agriculture or primary industries.

The Country Hour has requested a response from the office of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and from the state agriculture ministers.

The Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce was unavailable for interview.

SCoPI has been working on the national drought policy reform, as well as an intergovernmental biosecurity agreement and a foot and mouth disease action plan.

The regular forum is also where governments discuss issues such as cost-sharing arrangements for pest and disease eradication programs.

It's not clear whether the state premiers and territory chief ministers voted specifically to disband the SCoPI, or whether that was part of a broader agreement to cut red tape and bureaucracy around COAG operations.

After the last SCoPI meeting, on December 6, each of the agriculture ministers stressed that the Council forum had their full support, with NSW primary industry minister Katrina Hodgkinson saying at the time that, "SCoPI is an essential forum for ministers to strengthen relationships and discuss issues of cross-jurisdictional importance".

Western Australian agriculture minister Ken Baston has also said he fully supports the SCoPI, and sees it as extremely valuable to the future of agriculture. Similar comments have been made by the ministers in other jurisdictions as well.

The COAG communique released on Friday says ministerial meetings can continue on an ad hoc basis, "where there are important areas of Commonwealth and State co-operation outside the Council system".

The eight standing councils named in the COAG communique are Federal Financial Relations; Disability Reform; Transport and Infrastructure; Energy; Industry and Skills; Law, Crime and Community Safety; Education; and Health.


- ABC

© ABC 2013

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