What can the wine sector expect from the Albanese government? By Tony Battaglene, Chief Executive, Australian Grape & Wine.

The Labor Government has now settled into its stride. There has been a focus on resetting Australia’s image internationally, with a particular emphasis on climate change and enhancing strategic relationships with the Pacific region and more broadly.
We have met with the new Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Senator the Hon Murray Watt and he is saying all the right things. He understands the oversupply situation caused by the China market, and the pressures placed on the sector by cost and availability of freight, rising input costs and input shortages, and labour issues. We will continue to work with him on finding solutions.
I also met with Senator the Hon Don Farrell, Minster of Trade and Tourism. With a vineyard in the Clare Valley, it is good to know that the vital trade portfolio is in safe hands.

Foreign agricultural worker visa rules was one of the most contentious agricultural policies during the federal election campaign. Labor announced it would create a dedicated agriculture visa stream under the established Palm (Pacific Australia Labor Mobility) scheme. However, there is also an understanding that foreign workers are essential for agriculture industries and we are suffering a skills shortage. Coupled with scarcity and high cost accommodation there is no quick fix. Labor’s national labour hire licensing scheme will provide stronger safeguards.

Water is also a big issue for Labor and one that we will need to ensure we have a strong footprint in the decision making process. Labor has committed $34m to establish a National Water Commission aiming to drive reform, future-proof water resources and increase policy transparency. Labor has also committed to uphold the Murray Darling Basin Plan in full, delivering on water commitments including 450GL for South Australia. 

Labor’s five point plan for the basin includes improving metering and monitoring with a “no meter, no pump” policy, and increasing transparency through market surveillance and making data publicly available. The plan has a strict 2024 deadline for water recovery, but the Productivity Commission has warned for years it is lagging. Labor has not ruled out water buybacks, unlike the Coalition. The Labor Government will also broaden the National Water Grid mandate to include town water supplies.

The new Government is bringing down a Budget on 25 October 2022. This Budget will be aimed at bringing forward funding for the Government’s priorities announced in the election campaign and reviewing existing programs. Australian Grape & Wine will be taking forward a very targeted ask for measures to grow demand and help growers and winemakers through the current oversupply situation facing significant sectors of the industry. We are working closely with growers in the inland regions to identify measures that can assist those under extreme pressure due to the closure of the China market. We know that the supply-demand situation is complex and different regions and different varieties present a very different picture. However, the reality is that we still have to find a home for the red wine that was formally destined for China and are faced with freight and logistics issues, soaring input costs and labour shortages and raging inflation. Pressure will be felt right across the board in 2022-23 and into the medium term.
The lack of clear guidance on next steps with the Wine Tourism and Cellar Door Grant is causing concern and questions from industry. The new Government has committed to conducting an audit of the previous Government’s budget measures across all portfolios. This includes the Wine Tourism and Cellar Door Grant program. The audit will inform the reprioritisation of spending in the 2022-23 Budget context. We are working with the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry to ensure that:

  • We can progress the cellar door program and we have made this very clear to the minster the importance of this program;
  • As soon as we have an outcome on the audit, we can progress the Wine Tourism Cellar Door Grant program quickly. 

However, it is likely that, if it does continue, the next round will not open until later this year, following Minister Watt’s review and approval of commitment of funds for further rounds of the program.

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