In line with the national rise Victorian unemployment rate increases by 0.1 percentage point to reach 6.4 % as announced by ABS last week. There are now 197,000 people without jobs in Victoria. It gets worse for seasonally adjusted numbers as the unemployment rate jumps up to the highest since January 2002.
This hardly came as a surprise with 3 major car manufactures announcing their closer of Australian plants in the last few months. The most recent decision of Toyota to cease production in its Altona factory will be devastating for Victorian manufacturing and cause some serious pain to local communities.
Undoubtedly Australia is facing a significant period of change, transitioning from the traditional manufacturing based industries to exporting to the world a potentially endless supply of high value items. One such item is the supply of food – raw, pre-processed, processed and packaged ready for consumption. Becoming the food bowl to Asia is not a new concept for Australia; this has been on the nation’s agenda for a number of decades; however with the mining industry transitioning from the build to production phase the work to gear up our food producing capabilities should be well under way.
Just a quick check with The Australian Job 2013 report gives the following stats for the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing industry:
- 26,400 jobs lost since 2007;
- forecast to decline a further 13,500 jobs by 2017 and is the only industry expected to decline in its employment; and
- 59% of workers aged 45 or older
According to David Rohde’s report ‘The Swelling Middle’ by 2030, the Asian middle class will account for 64% of the global middle class and account for over 40% of the global middle class consumption. The global middle class will have swelled from 755 million in 1965 (22% of the world’s population) to 4.9 billion by 2030 (71% of the world’s population).
64% of 4.9 billion are a lot of mouths to feed – 3.1 billion roughly. The question then is are we really getting ourselves ready for this next opportunity by shedding close to 40,000 jobs in a decade from the very sector that is going to be most valuable to us? The current government has committed $100 million in additional funding to the Rural Research and Development Corporations to further increase this sector’s $48 billion gross production, 322,000 strong workforce and it’s 12% contribution to GDP (according to the National Farmers Federation).
But is it enough?
Surely as a nation we should be focusing more resources on future proofing this vital industry, investing in infrastructure, technology and importantly training the next generation to participate in developing this sector. With 3.1 billon people to feed by 2030 we will miss this opportunity unless we start to create the necessary foundations now.
The Government needs to consider the creation of a Government owned corporation similar to the NBN, Telstra or Medibank to ensure that this area achieves the focus required, investment of additional billions is required, not millions. Our Asian neighbours, especially China, are already indicating how important they think this issue is, have you notice how active China has been in acquiring significant parcels of our agricultural land in recent times?
If we are serious about making the most of this opportunity, Government needs to lead the way in workforce planning with a significant investment pipeline that signals to the Private sector that they are prepared to underwrite this industry for the longer term benefits for all Australians. This opportunity could be bigger and more sustainable then anything Australia has experienced in the past, but we need action now.