Watt takes agriculture reins

New Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt.

New Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt is a born and raised Queenslander who spent 20 years as a lawyer, a state member of parliament and chief of staff to former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh.

The Senator had a rocky start with Goulburn Valley farmers in the wake of Labor scrapping the Agriculture Visa.

“A change of government provides an opportunity to go back to square one with a range of stakeholders,” he said.

Senator Watt said labour shortages, biosecurity and rising input costs are his top three priorities, while climate change, sustainability and expanding agriculture has his attention in the longer term.

He wants to train Australian workers and expand the Pacific labour scheme, and said he was willing to investigate a variety of potential solutions, which includes talking to the unions.

Senator Watt said he was committed to phasing out live sheep exports, in another move that is divisive in the industry.

"This is something we want to do over time in consultation, in an orderly manner ... it's not going to be done within three years.“

He told the Financial Review that consulting with farmers and industry stakeholders was a hallmark of his ministry.

“I like getting out on the ground, hearing directly from people,” he said.

“All participants in the industry, from industry groups, farmers and companies to unions, workers, First Nations people and regional communities.”

VFF president Emma Germano told the ABC that Labor had not consulted key farmer groups on the decision to scrap the Agriculture Visa — a course of action the National Farmers' Federation described as an “insult to farmers”.

Senator Watt is married with two children. His parents were both school teachers from working-class backgrounds who raised him in Brisbane's southern suburbs.

He was educated at Brisbane State High School where he was school captain in 1989.

In 1996, he graduated from the University of Queensland with the degrees of Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws.

He is a key member of Labor’s Senate Estimates team and has led many Senate inquiries into health, regional, industry and other policies.