The National Farmers’ Federation is calling on the Government to increase its focus on food supply issues in the wake of tonight’s Federal Budget.
NFF President Fiona Simson said the rising cost of groceries was a key concern for Australians, and that more could be done to increase production and contain food price inflation.
“While this Budget delivers on fantastic election commitments in areas like connectivity, it is also wanting when it comes to some of agriculture’s greatest challenges,” Ms Simson said.
“Farmers are in the grip of a severe labour crisis, facing skyrocketing costs, and currently experiencing flooding – in some cases for the third time in 12 months.
“These pressures on farmers are being felt by everyday Australians who are witnessing supply and price shocks on supermarket shelves.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to the pressure this is putting on household budgets. There are steps the Government can and should take to boost output and ease supply and cost issues. Things like improving access to labour, bolstering supply chain infrastructure, and securing our access to water.
“This is clearly a transitional budget and we anticipate further measures in the next, more traditional May budget”
PALM promise underdelivered
“The labour crisis is a major barrier to farm production in Australia, and instead of decisive action to end that crisis – tonight’s Budget contains a setback,” Ms Simson said.
The Budget reveals that Labor’s election commitment to cover worker travel costs under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) Scheme will instead be replaced with an underwriting scheme.
“This commitment to help with the cost of bringing in Pacific workers was a consolation prize for the scrapping of the Ag Visa.
“Now it becomes the latest in a series of bitter blows and disappointments for farmers pleading for an end to this crisis.
“As the workforce crisis drags on, farmers are making the difficult decision to scale back production or leave the industry entirely – leaving Australia more vulnerable to price and supply shocks,” Ms Simson said.
Heritage Trust extension welcome
The Budget provides $1.1 billion over six years to extend funding for the Natural Heritage Trust to support sustainable management of Australia’s environment. $302.1 million of this funding will be earmarked for the farm sector.
“We welcome the $302 million to support the transition of the farm sector towards sustainable farming and land management practices.
“This is a critical announcement that will help farmers understand and respond to climate change, and access new environmental markets.
NFF will seek to work with the Government on the design and implementation of this measure.
We also welcome the restating of the measure that would support the introduction of legislation to treat carbon and biodiversity income as farm income.
Additional biosecurity funding, but sustainable funding remains elusive
Australia’s biosecurity environment continues to face increasing risks, as we fight to contain a Varroa mite outbreak and the ongoing risks of Foot and Mouth Disease and Lumpy Skin Disease in neighbouring countries.
“We welcome the Government’s allocation of additional funding to biosecurity measures, noting though that much of this is comprised of previously announced measures, including from the March budget”.
The fast tracking of preparedness, detection and response measures, detector dog funding as well as additional funding for traceability improvement are all important measures to bolster our biosecurity preparedness.
These additional commitments are important, but what this Budget doesn’t do is deliver on the Government’s clear electioncommitment to establish a sustainable funding stream for our biosecurity system.
“We appreciate that we’re still relatively early in the term of this Government and work is currently underway, but sustainable biosecurity funding is something the sector is unwavering in its expectation to see implemented when the next Budget is handed down.”
Water projects go down the drain
The Budget contains $4.6 billion in cuts to water infrastructure projects committed to under the previous Government.
Funded through the National Water Grid, the $5.4 billion Hells Gates Dam will no longer proceed, nor will planned improvements to the Dungowan, Emu Swamp and Wyangala dams, or the Hughenden Irrigation District (collectively funded for $899.5 million).
The Budget does instead fund water projects – including in the Cairns region and Tasmania – with an allocation of $278 million over 5 years.
“We know that to grow Australian agriculture in an increasingly volatile climate, we need to improve access to reliable water supplies.
“It’s disappointing that we seem unlikely to break our drought on major water storage upgrades any time soon.”
Open door to water buybacks will alarm farmers
The Budget papers signal an unpublished number has been allocated to deliver water recovery under the Murray Darling Basin Plan. The number is withheld due to commercial sensitivities.
“We’ve been clear that we want further on farm water buybacks off the table.
“Communities are nervous about the Government’s approach to this issue, and the number concealed in tonight’s budget will send a shiver down their spine.
“Communities deserve transparency as to how this recovery will be undertaken if funding decisions are now being taken.”
Connectivity funding delivery welcomed by the bush
The Budget improves on the Government’s election commitment to deliver connectivity in the bush and builds on investments made into the National Broadband Network (NBN).
This funding package provides over $757 million to fund a suite of connectivity measures from the Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia plan, as well as additional funding for current programs including the Regional Connectivity Program and Mobile Black Spot Programs.
“Connectivity is critical for productivity, safety and social connectivity in the bush,” Ms Simson said.
‘The sector welcomes the budgeting of the previously announced $30 million for on-farm connectivity, $20 million for an audit of mobile coverage and $6 million for the Regional Tech Hub’.
“These commitments are extremely welcomed by the sector but can’t just be a flash in the pan. Australia is a big country and we need sustained investment to ensure services in the bush keep pace with those in the city.”
Infrastructure spend takes a reverse tree change
The Budget confirms the Government’s pre-budget announcement that it would scrap cornerstone regional development schemes of the previous government and replace them with two new funds.
The Growing Regions Program and Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program will receive $1 billion over 3 years – failing to offset the scrapping of various existing regional programs.
“We’re continuing to see more and more Australians leave the major cities for a life in the regions.
“While that’s fantastic to see, it’s placing extreme pressure on infrastructure and services in the bush.
“The Precincts and Partnerships Fund moves towards a model of smart, place-based investment championed by the NFF. It’s fantastic to see the Government leading the way to a more strategic and collaborative approach to regional development.
“Unfortunately, the quantum of funds will disappoint regional Australians, as new programs fail to fill the void left by cuts. While more Australians are heading to the regions, it seems government investment is heading in the other direction.”
National Reconstruction Fund to boost food and agriculture
The Budget confirms the establishment of the National Reconstruction Fund – promised at the election.
$500 million of the $15 billion fund (to be invested over 7 years) will go towards projects in the farm sector. This investment will help to offset the cancellation of over $300 million unspent from the Modern Manufacturing Strategy – an existing grants program which also included a focus on food and drink manufacturing.
In addition to these investments, the Budget includes several grants to agrifood businesses including Costa Group, Inghams, and a pilot Food Manufacturing Hub in NSW.
“We’re passionate supporters of doing more with our food and fibre on Australian shores,” Ms Simson said.
“We’re looking forward to seeing what opportunities the National Reconstruction Fund can unlock for the farm sector.”
Farmers to receive support for climate transition
The Budget delivers funding to deliver the Government’s signature climate change policy – Powering Australia. These measures will create the structures that deliver a major shift in climate change and energy policy.
“We look forward to working with the Government to deliver priorities for agriculture including for improved abatement methodologies and low emissions technologies.
“This includes funding to especially economically reduce livestock emissions, and a range of transitional initiatives for farm energy.
Inspector-General of Animal Welfare
The budget provides $4 million over 4 years to establish an Inspector-General of Animal Welfare by expanding the functions of the Office of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports.
“Australia’s farmers and live exporters are world leaders in animal welfare practices. It is important that the Office does not add unnecessary red tape and is informed by science and not driven by ideology or political motives.”