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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1995

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995
ISBN 0 6444 3152 0


Chapter 14 of Agenda 21

Australia first adopted the principles of ecologically sustainable development in 1990. Since then the Australian Government has explicitly included sustainable development in its policy framework in terms of both economic and environmental goals. Because these two facets of sustainable development are interlinked the following discussion includes both in an integrated way.

The Australian Government believes that its role is to provide an integrated package of rural policies and programs aimed at improving farm profitability and international competitiveness, encouraging sustainable agricultural practices, and enhancing social and economic opportunities for rural communities. The orientation of Australia's agricultural policies is therefore towards market responsiveness and self reliance rather than towards subsidising market prices and influencing risk in export markets.

Australia's approach to agriculture and rural issues

A philosophical, cultural and substantive shift away from price related assistance towards market oriented policies has taken place over the past decade. This philosophy is based on the foundation that market forces are the most efficient means for determining resource use and maximising returns, and that production decisions are best made by individual farmers in response to market signals.

The Australian Government believes its role is to ensure that the institutional framework does not impede farmers' decision making and that the policy environment facilitates or encourages change. The Government has, therefore, progressively reduced protection measures and recast the role of statutory industry bodies, who now concentrate on research and development activities, market information and promotion services largely funded by growers.

Farmers have supported the new policy framework. They have improved their management and financial skills and adopted new technologies and innovative practices. They have become more flexible and better able to adapt to changing market conditions. Productivity has increased, management of the natural resource base has improved, and linkages with other sectors have been strengthened.

This approach has been critical to the productivity gains which have enabled farmers to stay in the market over several decades in the face of declining terms of trade. Overall, productivity gains can be attributed to:

Institutional responsibility for management of sustainable development in Australia resides with Federal, State/Territory and Local Governments. Consultative processes at ministerial level, supported by liaison between officials, ensures coordination of policy development and implementation through the three tiers of government.

Within this framework a community-based approach, supported by government, has proved to be the most effective model to progress sustainable development. This is consistent with the market-based approach to agricultural development and the achievement of self-reliance of farmers. Australia sees this community based approach to dealing with some of the apparently intractable rural adjustment issues as being a good model for developing countries where there is a strong sense of community at village level.

To further the coordination of institutional responsibilities with a community-based approach to sustainable development, the Federal and State/Territory Governments are focusing on improving linkages and coordination between Federal programs, State/Territory initiatives and other activities of government agencies, agribusiness and rural communities at a regional level. This will help facilitate a strategic approach to gaining effective community input and resolving impediments to improved policy coordination.

In this report the discussion on sustainable agriculture and rural development in Australia is addressed under the general headings of:

Farm productivity

Australian farm productivity continues to increase through advances in technology and improved farm management. Central to these achievements is the ability of farmers to make appropriate structural adjustments in response to market developments. Government involvement in structural adjustment has generally been at the margin. The Rural Adjustment Scheme is the main mechanism that the Government uses to overcome impediments to adjustment. Rural counsellors (farm financial advisers) and extension services (production and technical advisers) also play an important role in promoting adjustment and market responsiveness.

The rural adjustment scheme

The Rural Adjustment Scheme aims to facilitate better farm management and sustainable productivity growth on farms. The Scheme provides assistance to farmers who can show that it will lead to sustainable improvements in productivity and profitability without further government assistance. Support is available in the form of:

Short term interest subsidies of up to 100 per cent on commercial finance may be available to eligible farmers experiencing exceptional circumstances that cannot reasonably be expected to be factored into a farmer's risk management strategy. An example of such a circumstance is extreme drought.

For those farmers without prospects of profitability, the Rural Adjustment Scheme provides an incentive to leave farming by way of a re-establishment grant.

The national drought policy

Measures targeted directly to farmers to help them plan and prepare for drought include:

Under the National Drought Policy farmers assume greater responsibility for managing the risks arising from climatic variability. This includes flexible stocking rates and cropping intensity and decisions about the optimal intensity of farm resource use in a given year based on assessments of existing soil moisture content, pasture and vegetative cover and the best available rainfall forecasts. However, the Government recognises that from time to time there will be exceptional drought circumstances that farmers cannot reasonably be expected to incorporate into normal risk management processes. Exceptional drought circumstances is indicated when the combined impact on farmers of the following six criteria is a rare and severe occurrence: meteorological conditions, agronomic and stock conditions, water supplies, environmental impacts, farm income levels, scale of the event.

Under exceptional drought circumstance the impact of the drought on farm household incomes is critical and financial support to affected farmers is provided through the Social Security System.

Implementation of the National Drought Policy was supported by an initial awareness raising campaign which targeted farmers, farmers' associations and associated industry groups, accountants, advisers, banks and other financial institutions, Landcare groups and other areas serving agriculture.

Training packages on sustainable farming have been developed for farmers and their advisers to educate farmers in risk management, Landcare principles and drought preparedness. Development of the packages involved liaison with senior advisory personnel, farm management consultants and producer representatives to ensure that the training packages and extensions programs were relevant and met the needs of farmers as well as their service providers.

Training and education strategies are a crucial element in the campaign to shift farmers' attitudes from dependence on Government support to counteract the effect of drought and other sources of uncertainty affecting farming businesses to that of self reliance based on whole business planning.

Case Study - National Drought Policy

Land management task force

The establishment of a Land Management Taskforce to investigate ways to improve the adoption of property management plans by the farm sector was announced by the Commonwealth Government on 24 November 1994. The Taskforce is to report to the Government by mid 1995.

The work of the taskforce will complement the National Property Management Planning Campaign under the National Landcare Program which aims to encourage better planning and management skills of individual farmers for all aspects of farm management, ensure that planning is carried out on a catchment or regional basis, take into account the needs of all users and the inter- relationships of land, water and vegetation.

Land management planning will further enhance sustainable development in Australia's rural sector through the development of integrated risk management strategies based on environmental, financial and business management planning. The Taskforce will:

Industry growth strategies

Industry growth strategies for Australian agriculture recognise the particular circumstances of individual industries and identify opportunities and impediments to their growth. Strategies, driven by industry- government partnerships, have been developed for wool, wheat , sugar and dairy industries. These strategies aim to improve farming systems and strengthen the linkages with the manufacturing sector through downstream value adding and export orientation.


A number of Agribusiness Programs, administered by the Federal Government, are aimed at enhancing the international competitiveness of Australia's agricultural and related industries. These aim to provide an integrated package of assistance to enable firms, businesses and industry groups to improve their international competitiveness and take advantage of opportunities emerging in Asian and other international markets. The programs provide funding and consultancy support for bench marking studies, design and implementation of world best practice projects, development of quality management systems, strategic business and market planning, development and enhancement of networks, target export marketing skills projects, identification of opportunities for community-based agribusiness development, and innovation in production, processing and marketing.

Agrifood and agribusiness initiatives such as these have seen Australian farmers build a reputation throughout the world as producers of high quality, competitively priced, clean products.

In 1992, the Federal Government established the Agrifood Council which is comprised of members from government, agricultural industries and the food processing sector. This has improved communication between the various links in the food chain and resulted in an increased awareness by producers of consumer demands, including environmental concerns.

Clean food export program

The Clean Food Export Program is a joint initiative with industry, with joint funding, and is a major component of the Agri-Food Strategy. It is designed to enhance Australia's ability to supply clean, fresh quality produce to overseas markets and is based on creating a market advantage for Australian fresh and processed food on the basis of its quality and origin from a clean environment.

Its major objective is to underpin the push towards substantial increases in value added food exports to Asia by establishing a market preference based on Australia's ability to produce high quality foods from a clean producing and processing environment.

Under the direction of the Agri-Food Council the pilot program is being managed by Clean Food Australia Ltd, a company jointly owned by the Commonwealth Government, the National Farmers Federation and Grocery Manufacturers of Australia.

A pilot program undertaken in Taiwan, launched in December 1993, has been based on the television advertising of a clean food logo and associated brand advertising using the logo on packaging and point of sale material. Consideration is being given to expanding the program to other Asian markets in 1995.

Agricultural industries based on native species of flora and fauna are expanding in Australia and include species such as macadamia nuts, tea tree oil, flowers, emus, kangaroos and crocodiles. The sustainable use of biological diversity, including native wildlife, is provided for in the draft National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity.

Bilateral and multilateral cooperation

Australia worked closely with other members of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting nations to ensure the inclusion of agriculture in the outcome of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations. Most Australian commodity sectors will benefit from the reforms, in particular the beef, wheat and dairy industries. Australia believes that an open, equitable and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system, and a substantial and progressive reduction in the support and protection of agriculture, can make major contributions to promoting sustainable development. The Uruguay round outcome is a first step in reforming those agricultural and trade policies that have encouraged environmentally damaging agricultural practices, distorted markets and depressed prices.

Australia also pursues agricultural trade issues on a bilateral basis, an example being the Closer Economic Relations agreement with New Zealand.

Australian regional cooperation in support of more efficient and sustainable agriculture includes strong support for the APEC process. APEC's 18 member economies are committed to reducing barriers to trade and investment in the Asia/Pacific. APEC Leaders have agreed to achieve the long term goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia/Pacific region no later than the year 2020. This process will be undertaken in a manner consistent with the GATT/WTO and take account of differing levels of economic development among APEC member economics.

International Development Assistance

Australia's agricultural environments, including tropical and dryland environments, are similar to many developing countries. The agricultural sector is an important component of Australia's development cooperation program, and is considered to be an area in which Australia has internationally recognised expertise.

There are currently over seventy agriculture and rural development projects in the program, totalling over $400 million. Support to The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the International Agricultural Research Centres is expected to be over $36 million in 1994-95.

ACIAR promotes collaborative research among Australian scientists and their developing country counterparts on key aspects of sustainable agriculture including: better land, forest and water management, improved animal husbandry and health; improved management of coastal and marine ecosystems; more effective agronomic practices; minimisation of toxic chemical inputs; and socio-economic aspects of sustainable natural resource development and management.

Australia will contribute more that $2 million to the International Fund for Agricultural Development in 1994-95 and currently funds specific projects of several international agricultural institutions.

Agricultural and resource economic analysis

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) provides economic information of direct relevance to Australia's minerals, energy, agriculture, forestry and fishing industries through a comprehensive program of economic research and analysis. The information is available to government, industry and the community and includes collations of basic data collected by ABARE's survey teams in the field and reports on and forecasts for individual commodities. Data analysis also include economic and demographic trends of the farming community.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) also collects basic data on the financial and production activities of farming businesses and also on management practices related to environmental issues.

Research and development

In recent years the Australian Government has pursued policies that seek to expand Australia's research and development effort, to improve its efficiency and management, to focus resources on high priority areas and enhance international competitiveness through the effective uptake of research results by industry and government.

In Australia, Government financial involvement in research and development takes various forms:

The Australian primary industries RDC model is unique internationally and unlike the agricultural research funding systems of other countries, features a high level of industry involvement in priority setting, funding and management of research. This approach ensures effective and efficient R& D that is market driven and focused on areas with the highest returns for industry.

It also provides for joint industry and government funding while separating funding from the performance of research. Its core is the proactive management of all aspects of R& D by expert management boards including strategic planning and priority setting, funding and facilitation, and commercialisation and adoption of R& D outcomes. A direct outcome of joint funding of R& D is the incorporation of sustainability as one of the four key objectives of the terms and references of all RDC's.

R& D Corporations have been increasing the proportion of research on adding value to agricultural production at all stages of the production, processing and marketing chain and in addressing sustainability issues. Their objectives are to:

It is estimated that the total agricultural R& D funding during 1993-94 was A$650-$700 million, of which the R& D Corporations invested A$230 million.

The Commonwealth Government also funds the Australian Geological Survey Organisation (AGSO) and the Bureau of Resource Sciences (BRS). AGSO's objectives include the improvement of knowledge of the geology of Australian and the region and to provide the information required for effective land, ground water and environmental management. The main objective of the BRS is to support the sustainable development of Australian's agricultural, mineral, petroleum, forestry and fisheries industries through the provision of scientific and technical advice, analysis and assessments to government, industry and the community.

Information on the development of indicators of agricultural sustainability is provided in the chapter on Integrated Decision Making. (see Case Study - Indicators for Sustainable Agriculture )

Case Studies:

For further information contact:

Department of Primary Industries and Energy