TONY PASIN MP
MEMBER FOR BARKER
ASSISTANT SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
SUPPORT NEEDED FOR RIVERLAND GROWERS
Mr PASIN (Barker) (19:29): More than 60 per cent of Australia’s total wine production is exported. Until recently, the Chinese market represented 30 per cent of the industry’s total $3 billion in export sales. As we know, the value of wine exports to China has declined sharply. More than 95 per cent of wine destined for China was red wine, which represents 50 per cent of Australia’s total red wine export sales by value. The sudden and dramatic loss of this market has resulted in a severe red grape and wine oversupply.
The electorate of Barker produces more wine by value and volume than any other in the House. It’s home to some of the oldest vines and most acclaimed wineries in the country. Indeed, Riddoch Coonawarra’s 2021 ‘the pastoralist’ was recently awarded the international cabernet sauvignon trophy at the International Wine Challenge. But it’s the Riverland that produces the most of our wine by volume. The Riverland is the oldest irrigation settlement in Australia. Coupled with a warm climate, this creates favourable conditions for growing grapes and producing wine. It’s the largest Australian wine region by size, covering a whopping 20,000 hectares of grapevines spread along 330 kilometres of the river in South Australia.
The Riverland’s almost 1,000 growers represent almost one-third of our nation’s total crush. As a result, this region is disproportionately impacted by the loss of the China market. In addition to oversupply, the region has been impacted by recent floods, and many irrigators, of course, are grappling with Labor’s energy crisis. It’s the perfect storm for Riverland winegrowers. One grower contacted me recently. He said:
For many irrigators, the power increases coupled with the disastrous outlook for red wine grapes for the 2023 vintage (plus a flood event impacting on some irrigated properties) … might be nearly enough to send some … “out the back door”.
Grape growers in the Riverland need our support.
I spoke about this need for support in November last year. I urged the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to act, to support the industry in what we knew was going to be an extremely tough vintage for 2023. Even before we knew the extent of the floods or just how high prices would go—that is, electricity prices—we knew that, without the Chinese market and with storage limitations, red wine grape growers would be in dire straits.
I wrote to the federal and state agriculture ministers in September last year requesting meetings with growers to discuss the potential for government support, but sadly I got crickets. The state government eventually allocated $100,000 for the industry to develop a blueprint to guide the industry future. And while I’m certainly not discouraging the need for a long-term strategy, that’s cold comfort for those who need support today, particularly when the industry was asked at the same time to cough up $50,000 to support the development of the blueprint. But that sums Labor up, doesn’t it? Somehow it always costs more. The industry came looking for help, and they left with an invoice. Some growers have been encouraged to mothball and some encouraged to rip out their vines and replace them with white groups, but both options come at a financial loss to the grower. For some growers it’s simply not a crisis they can ride out, and I’m disappointed to hear that banks are getting nervous.
The lack of action from this Labor government to support this absolutely vital regional industry is gobsmacking. I can’t imagine what the future holds for the Riverland community with those opposite intent on killing communities by taking productive water out of the market with buybacks—although many irrigators can’t afford to pump it anyway, because of Labor’s cost-of-energy crisis—and with the 2023 vintage running at a loss for many growers, they probably can’t hang on. I know I’ve painted a grim picture, but this is a picture the minister needs to see. Irrigators in the Riverland are the lifeblood of that community. They are at the heart of the Riverland economy, and they’re on their knees. We need a minister who is prepared to come and listen to them.
Media Contact: Charlotte Edmunds 8724 7730