Tonight’s Federal Budget has delivered a shot in the arm for agriculture and regional Australia with welcomed investment in biosecurity, infrastructure, trade, telecommunications, climate change adaptation and health services.
NFF President Fiona Simson said the 2021-2022 Budget papers specifically referenced the NFF-led goal for agriculture to be Australia’s next $100 billion industry by 2030 and outlined spending initiatives that would provide tangible, on the ground benefits to farmers and bush communities.
“This Budget has delivered more than $5 billion investment in freight and regional roads across every state and territory, including upgrades Queensland’s Bruce Highway, the Northern Territory’s National Network Highway, South Australia’s August Highway and Tasmania’s Midland Highway.”
The NFF has been critical of the massive underspend in the infrastructure portfolio.
“These projects will go a long way to addressing NFF’s previously highlighted concerns with the $1.3 billion annual gap in regional infrastructure spending. The cost of getting produce from farm to market is one of farmers’ largest cost imposts and a key determinant of our ability to compete on the world stage. Work must commence on these infrastructure projects as soon as possible,” Ms Simson said.
Ms Simson said the NFF welcomed $29 million for a strengthened and more coordinated approach to feral animal control.
“This is in addition to the $371 million over four years announced last week to expand and modernise an ailing biosecurity system, exceeding the NFF’s ask of $400 million.”
Ms Simson said farmers had called on Government to invest in the development of a long-term trade strategy that consolidated and diversified agriculture’s export market base.
“Tonight, we’ve seen $213 million for trade including the enhanced representation and promotion of Australia’s interests through the WTO and the establishment of a new international agriculture envoy program to protect agriculture’s export interests.”
Ms Simson said climate change was both an enormous challenge and opportunity for farmers.
“Farmers are poised to continue to lead the nation in its reduced emissions future. The $237.9 million to help farmers better understand and manage their soils across a number of portfolio and priority areas acknowledges the importance of gaining a better understanding of soil carbon measurement and planning.
“The NFF also welcomes the $209.7 million for enhanced climate services which will go a long way to securing resilience and preparedness through more granular climate and weather data and forecasting.”
Ms Simson said an additional investment in stewardship and biodiversity of $36.8 million furthered a priority area for the NFF.
“We look forward to integrating our current work on the Australian Agriculture Stewardship Framework with these measures.”
On a disappointing note, the Budget allocated only $153 million in funding to improve bush communications with $68 million quarantined from existing funding for northern Australia.
“This falls short of securing the future of the Mobile Blackspots Program beyond this year, as called for by the NFF. The NFF implores the Government not to become complacent in its funding for regional communications,” Ms Simson said.
Especially important was some recognition of the inequality regional, rural and remote Australians face when it comes to accessing health care, with a $65 million expansion of bulk billing rebates in the bush.
Mental health is a critical issue for farmers and regional Australians, with rates of psychological distress 28.9% higher among farmers than the broader population.
“We welcome the major commitment to mental health services in tonight’s budget – with $2.3 billion to support intervention, suicide prevention and services. We hope that regional Australia is set to receive a strong share of this allocation.
“Agriculture’s growth is constrained by a skilled and low-skilled workforce deficit, a problem that has been exasperated by COVID border restrictions.
“The NFF welcomes approximately $30 million in funding for some of the sound initiatives proposed in the National Agriculture Workforce Strategy including for the development for agriculture career pathways; data to better understand the sector’s skills needs and to help farmers to better understand their compliance responsibilities.”
The NFF continues to call for a dedicated agriculture visa solution and an apprenticeship-style qualification.
“This Budget is recognition of the crucial role a strong and profitable farm sector plays in Australia’s overall economic prosperity” Ms Simson said.