National Farmers' Federation

Whatever happened to Australia’s nation building agenda?

“WE WEREN’T expecting much and the Treasurer didn’t disappoint,” is the blunt assessment of tonight’s Federal Budget from National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie.
“Predictably the Government is staking a claim to economic responsibility, but where is the investment in Australia’s future? While the Rudd Government is going to great pains to convince everyone of its fiscal prudence, the fact remains that major reforms are still needed to push Australia’s economy towards long-term growth.
“We recognise the Government’s commitment to pilot drought reform and infrastructure funding, particularly rail, but a long list of important issues were not tackled tonight. Smart long-term nation building investment is needed to kick the economy into top gear.
Research and development (R&D)
“Agricultural production kept Australia out of recession but without boosting research and development – inexplicably cut last year – productivity can only go backwards and damage our global competitiveness.
“While we have ensured those cuts were not repeated tonight, a holding pattern is inadequate and the Government knows it.
“Agriculture has been running on research generated in the 1990s. The stark reality is that Australia needs to dramatically boost its R&D focus if we are to remain a serious international player and fill the ever-growing world order for food and fibre.
“Inherent transport inefficiency when moving produce from the farm to the consumer – both domestically and internationally – is a major impediment, which is set to get a whole lot worse.
“It adds multiple and unnecessary costs and delays, and has the spin-off impact of hamstringing our competitiveness both here and overseas.
“So we welcome the funding on infrastructure, in particular rail, but what we still need is for this spending to be directed by a coordinated freight strategy, which identifies key bottlenecks facing our farmers, and the economy more broadly.
“We need a strategic, integrated and highly competitive transport system in Australia, aligning farm production with roads, rail and ports. Despite Infrastructure Australia’s inception over two years ago the, upshot from tonight is that we’re still waiting for any plan.
Promoting business in the regions
“The NFF has called on the Government to address the population challenge by promoting business in the bush. We were looking to the Government’s response to the Henry Tax Review for a positive way forward, only to be disappointed.
“Tonight we are still none the wiser as to whether the Government is even considering smart incentives to create opportunities for businesses and families in regional Australia as part of the solution to the mounting problems of dealing with 36 million people by 2050.
Protecting our borders from disease
“We are blessed to be one of the most disease-free countries on Earth, but Australia’s biosecurity system needs a major fix to get up to scratch and meet our modern needs.
“The Government has laid the foundations for reform through the Beale Review, but the rhetoric has not been matched with funding to deliver it. It would be devastating for Australia – our national economy, industries and regional communities – if we were to have a major incursion of serious disease.
“We remain frustrated that serious new funding for quarantine reform does not seem to rate the attention of the Government.
Working with farmers for environmental benefits
“The Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) recognises and engages farmers in actively managing environmental assets on behalf of the whole community. It’s a concept the NFF created and has driven since 2006.
“The first phase of the program is well underway and proving to be resoundingly successful. We were never expecting a huge lick of money tonight, but to fail to renew or expand any investment is extremely short-sighted.
“The ESP has the backing of farmers, environmental scientists and community groups. It sees government and the community partner with farmers to actively preserve and protect natural resources, native vegetation and the wildlife dependant on them.
“Tonight the Government shied away from its responsibilities, failing to grasp this initiative and expand an outstanding program that delivers tangible long-term environmental benefits.
Wrap up
“The Government is not off the economic management hook. Whether the election is sooner or later, the NFF will be pushing the Government, and indeed, all political parties, to deliver on these key nation building initiatives.”

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