Interview with Virginia Trioli, ABC Melbourne, Mornings

Virginia Trioli
CSIRO food production report; Housing Australia Future Fund.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Joining you up next is Ed Husic, Minister for Industry and Science. And it’s great to have the Minister in town because, intriguingly, the CSIRO is going to be releasing very, very soon a new food plan called Reshaping Australian Food Systems: a Blueprint to Protect the Country’s Long-Term Food Sustainability and Security. 

And, yes, I hear you yelling at the radio going, “Hallelujah! Finally!” Because this has been a massive challenge for years. We’re building on the land around our cities where we need to grow our food. We’re not necessarily getting the export/import mix right, and we also need to talk about how we’re growing our food as well and how we’re supporting agribusinesses to remain sustainable. 

Ed Husic, good to see you. Good morning. 


VIRGINIA TRIOLI: This is the conversation. 

ED HUSIC: It is. It really is. And it’s something, like most of your listeners, I think about this quite deeply and I think about how, you know, we’re expecting the world population will grow - just under 10 billion between now and 2050. Food demand probably up 60 per cent, and yet we still have people who are either moderately or severely food insecure – worried about where they’ll get their food – or they can’t afford a healthy diet. And the climate’s changing around us and we’ve got to meet all that demand. 

So we do need to think ahead and we need to use our know-how and we can’t be complacent about the way we produce food. And the other issue is – and I know this is a thing that gets a lot of people – in Australia, according to Foodbank, we waste nearly 8 million tonnes of food, and 70 per cent of it is edible. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Absolutely. It’s insane that that’s still going on. But, look, at the same time I feel like in a job like this I’ve been talking about this and having this conversation with people like you for decades now, and it doesn’t shift. For decades we’ve been saying we can be, you know, the clean, green forward exporters to the world, or at least to our region. And yet we’re not. So specifically what needs to change? 

ED HUSIC: I can just pick up on one point: the things that people love about our food is that clean and green element of it. But, again, we need to think with all those factors I mentioned earlier, what do we do differently. And so we’ve got to have much more sustainable and resilient food systems, so thinking about the impact of climate and also the impact on climate in the way that we produce food. 


ED HUSIC: And having resilient food systems – and by that I mean that we can get the food we need, that we don’t have supply chain issues in the way that we’ve had it impacted and driving up costs in particular food items. We need to use Australian know-how, our R&D, to think differently about how we produce that food. 

I’ll give you a great example. I opened a facility in Western Sydney just late last year where they’re turning – I sort of describe it turning wheat into meat. And by that I mean that they’re physically turning it into meat but they have that sinewy taste of lamb or chicken, and this complementary protein that has a much smaller footprint when compared to livestock, can still produce proteins that will be needed on the world stage to meet the demand for protein. 

Easy to store, durable, but also is value-adding for Australian industry and making a difference. And they’re Harvest B out at Penrith. 

The application of technology for precise agriculture, better use of chemicals and pesticides, ensuring we come up with new fertilisers as well – that know-how and working together between business, government and academia to make that much more efficient or accessible, if I can put it that way, big challenge. And that’s what we’ve got to think about long term. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So that’s what the CSIRO is looking at. How clean and green are we really? I mean, we have, a reasonably good organic production level in this country. It’s not huge, but, you know, it’s countable at least. It’s expensive. It definitely comes with a premium. But when we talk about what we use in our soils, what we use on those crops, are we really that clean and green, or could we do much better? 

ED HUSIC: I think even if you talk to producers, they will also look at better ways of doing things. And they’re very conscious – 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And by better, I mean less intervention. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, well, or smarter intervention, too. 


ED HUSIC: And, again, I follow this in terms of technology and looking at the way in which robotics is being increasingly used on farms that can deliver much more precise doses of pesticides or looking at better ways of fertiliser. 

And also the development of fertilisers, Virginia. I mean, in time when we crack quantum computing – without going into a whole other sort of delving into another substream of the conversation – but you know, the way in which we can use greater computing power to develop new fertilisers that are safer too and much more sustainable, that applied to food production will be important longer term as well. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I mentioned land use, and you’ve been talking about, you know, proper land use and growing the right kind of crops and making sustainable. Does this conversation need to include – and, of course, that brings it down to state and local government level as well – the use of land around our cities and the fact increasingly we’re building on them, and we’re building on that loop that used to be the immediate food production area for a lot of major cities. 

ED HUSIC: I come from Western Sydney. I’ve grown up there and I’ve seen market gardens. You know, I used to be able to drive through parts I’ve grown up in and where you did see a lot of market gardens, and obviously, you know, you’ve got that competition of housing people and feeding people. And you can see that play out in the outer suburbs, and it is a challenge. And people – it’s not a sentimental thing; people do like the reassurance that comes from a market garden close to them where they’re getting their food much closer. They can see what’s being grown. They’ve got it accessible, nice and close. So it is an issue – 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So will that be a focus? 

ED HUSIC: I think that will be something that not necessarily out of this body of work, but I think it is something that is definitely on the radar, thinking about land use and competition. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Do you – are you looking for or hoping to be able to speak about a commitment to food waste in this country? 

ED HUSIC: I think it’s a conversation we need to definitely start. And I think the work of the CSIRO and others in thinking around – one of the things that will be explored in this upcoming report is how to build community awareness around food waste. And also the other thing that I think is important here is not just in consumers but in the minds of industry, the circular economy – thinking smarter, wasting less, using our resources much better. 

We have not had that conversation at a federal level for years, and in my portfolio circular economy issues, as with my colleague and friend Tanya Plibersek, we’re working together on encouraging greater curricular economy thinking. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Ed Husic is with you, Minister for Industry and Science. I know I’ve got to let you go because you’ve got a keynote you’ve got to give somewhere here in town and you can’t be late for that. 

ED HUSIC: All good. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just a quick last question: we were speaking about housing before. The Greens voted with the Coalition in the Senate yesterday to block a move to guarantee a vote on the Housing Australia Future Fund bill. And then the National senator Matt Canavan said – and I’m quoting here – the opposition would “use every tactic to make sure it does get stopped”. What’s the future of this bill? 

ED HUSIC: I think – look, we’re very committed to increasing housing stock, particularly affordable housing stock. It’s why we’ve put the Housing Australia Future Fund forward. You know, it is deeply disappointing that we’ve had – seen the Greens team up with the Coalition because while the Greens – look, we have differences of opinion on how to deal with that issue with the Australian Greens, but that quote that you just read out from the Coalition demonstrates the mindset that the Coalition hasn’t learned. 

The Australian public wants parliament to function, to work to solve to problems. We’ll have disagreements, but the expectation is we’ll sort through those. Look, we are very focused on this as a government. We want to be able to deliver it. I certainly understand from the point of view the Greens want more social and affordable housing. This is one step towards that. And that’s what we expect will be delivered and we want to be able to work with others to make that happen. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I’ve got a million things I’ve got to ask you, but I know I’ve got to let you go. 

ED HUSIC: Tina Turner. 


ED HUSIC: Yeah. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Like to share a reflection on Tina Turner? 

ED HUSIC: I think a lot of us were sad. We grew up, particularly in the 80s, you know, so many of her songs are part of our memories growing up. You had George Miller on before, which I was so excited about, and Mad Max, We Don’t Need Another Hero. That was such a great song. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: This is your youth we’re talking about here. 

ED HUSIC: Yeah, totally. And Simply the Best, because obviously as a Sydneysider rugby league is big part of our life. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Were you there at that final where she sang? 

ED HUSIC: No. No, I wasn’t, but I’m grateful, can I just say, that I did not live in an era with camera and phones or phones on cameras to, like, the Nutbush. Like, I don’t need any of that footage anywhere on the interweb at all. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: No, because you can do it, right? You don’t need someone to show you. You don’t need a showing of Nutbush, do you? 

ED HUSIC: And that’s the end of our program, folks. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I might get up and dance. 

ED HUSIC: No, I will not. The Australian public has to deal with a lot; they don’t need that. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: They don’t need that. Ed Husic, great to see you.