Legislative barriers to innovation and development in the fresh fruit and vegetable sector in Tasmania: perception or reality?
Food Innovation Australia Limited approached Sprout Tasmania and Landscape & Social Research to undertake a ‘scoping study’ to determine the extent to which legislative barriers exist within the fresh food production and processing industries in Tasmania.
The focus of this initial scoping study is on fruit and vegetable production. Meat and dairy have a higher level of legislation and licensing requirements and was deemed to be too complex for this initial scoping study. Some of the producers we interviewed raised current issues relating to meat and dairy, and eggs. There is certainly scope to extend this investigation into those areas should additional resource become available.
“Red tape,” or overly burdensome compliance is estimated to cost up to 12% of the profits of some mixed farmers across Australia (Holmes & Sackett, 2014) and causes considerable angst to most small and medium businesses. This scoping study sought to identify which areas of legislation were causing the most angst to small and medium growers and processors of fresh fruit and vegetables in Tasmania.
Six growers and six processors, running businesses at various stages of maturity, were interviewed.
The Red Tape Reduction Coordinator in Tasmania, Stuart Clues, was also interviewed, as was Nick Steel from the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, to identify commonalities across the broader community in relation to concerns about red tape.
Nearly 30 pieces of legislation and/or codes of practice were identified from a scan of the Business Licensing Information System that relate to the growing or processing of fruit and vegetables in Tasmania. This list was also completed by collecting additional information from interviewees.
Whilst interviewees raised a number of specific concerns about complying with this very complex legislative landscape, they all acknowledged the need for sound legislative frameworks. For example, interviewees were all very keen to ensure they did the right thing by their staff, their land and water resources and met their broader obligations to society by paying their taxes and levies. However, where they were frustrated was where there was the perception of over-regulation or illogical application of rules. For example, requirements for accessible toilets in packing sheds in the middle of farms where there is little prospect that a person with mobility issues would be working in such an environment seemed illogical to some interviewees and was costing them considerable resources to fund.
The compliance burden is not consistent through the life-cycle of a business. There are peaks of intensity in ‘red tape’ when establishing a business and when planning and implementing a major expansion or diversification. Once businesses settle down to a more operational phase, the compliance burden is more even, albeit still often a significant impost in time and cost.
The extent to which ‘red tape’ is perceived as a burden is largely dependent on the perspective of the business owner and their capacity to cope with compliance. Some interviewees we spoke to were quite accepting of their compliance work load and saw it as an opportunity to continue to refine and improve their business efficiency. Others were more negative.
The extent to which small and medium producers and processors are impacted by legislation is dependent largely on their perception of the ‘problem’. Some are overwhelmed and see compliance as an imposition; a threat to the sustainability of their business. Others see compliance as an opportunity to run a very efficient, transparent business.
It is evident that there are some compliance issues that are overly burdensome, duplicative and/or out-dated. However, the Coordinator-General’s Office, through the Red Tape Reduction Coordinator, is doing a good job of addressing many of those issues. Indeed, this is the best mechanism through which red tape can be properly dealt with because that office has links to all levels of government.
From this initial scoping study, the area in which FIAL might best assist small to medium producers is in facilitating the establishment of mechanisms to build the capacity of producers and processors to manage their compliance issues and to help them through times of expansion and/or development into new products and markets.