Food policy in Australia has traditionally been fragmented across numerous spheres and departments:

– Agriculture and Primary Production

– Environment and Land-use management

– Health

– Education and Employment

– Manufacturing

– Trade

– Social welfare and community services

In 2010 there was for the first time an opportunity to inject a greater level of coherence across this disparate space. To integrate, for the first time, a food systems perspective into Australian policy frameworks. Unfortunately, this opportunity was lost before it had a chance to develop, with the Rudd-Gillard Labor Government adopting an overwhelmingly neoliberal approach to food and agriculture with the 2013 National Food Plan. The main thrust of this Plan was boosting exports and levels of productivity, the master frame being that the ‘dining boom will replace the mining boom‘. Health and the environment were very much marginalised, and there was some token support for the community food sector in the form of a $1.5 mn Community Food Grants program.

With the election of the new Coalition government in September 2013, the National Food Plan became one of the casualties of the change of regime. And with it the Community Food Grants program, supposedly on the grounds that Australia could not afford this level of expenditure. The new Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper is in effect more of the same productivist neoliberal approach, shorn of any pretense of concern to integrate a food systems approach to this area.

For these reasons the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance commenced a grassroots process to develop a People’s Food Plan for Australia, in August 2012. Inspired by the example of the Canadian People’s Food Policy Project (2009-2011), we put out a call to food networks around the country: 40 public forums were held with 600 people participating. This process was driven by a strong set of core values and principles that placed human health and well-being, and eco-system integrity, at the centre of policy for food and agriculture. The proposals looked to best practice and inspiring examples around the world, to make a series of specific recommendations concerning:

  • a transition to sustainable forms of food production
  • support for farmers to become and remain viable
  • revitalisation of rural and regional communities through local and regional food economies
  • creation of an enabling framework for the expansion of urban agriculture
  • raise levels of food literacy amongst children and youth, to support a culture of healthy eating and living
  • move towards zero-waste closed loop food systems
  • adopt a precautionary approach towards new technologies
  • address concentrations of corporate power and ownership across the food system
  • empower communities to become active participants and decision-makers in key food system issues
  • develop mechanisms for authentic fair trade in place of corporate-dominated free trade

This approach is congruent with the global movement towards localised and fair food systems, that is becoming institutionalised at many levels in diverse countries around the world; and increasingly at the local level in Australia.

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working for food sovereignty in Australia