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Avocados Australia has been working with the National Farmers Federation (NFF) to lobby the Government on a range of issues affecting the Australian avocado industry. How the Government channels its funds is one of those issues. In all, the NFF found that the recent budget falls short of addressing the major needs of the agriculture sector, however, some areas put forward have merit.
According to the NFF although the Federal Budget delivers on areas like connectivity, it is “wanting” when it comes to some of agriculture’s greatest challenges.
NFF President, Fiona 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.”
The NFF President argues that if the budget had aimed to address these issues it would have also addressed the cost-of-living pressures everyday Australians are currently experiencing.
“These pressures on farmers are being felt by everyday Australians who are witnessing supply and price shocks on supermarket shelves,” said Ms Simson.
The NFF believes there are steps the Government can and should take to boost output, ease supply and cost issues. Things like improving access to labour, bolstering supply chain infrastructure, and securing access to water.
The NFF Hort Council members (including Avocados Australia) believe that the labour crisis is a major barrier to farm production in Australia and instead of decisive action to end the crisis the Budget contained a setback.
PALM promise underdelivered
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.
According to the NFF President 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 is another disappointment, and the workforce crisis continues.
John Tyas, CEO of Avocados Australia, and other NFF Hort Council members, feel that Labor has gone back on their election promise.
Heritage Trust extension welcome
Fortunately, there was a welcome inclusion in the budget. 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 is earmarked for the farm sector.
The $302 million has been allocated to support the transition of the farm sector towards sustainable farming and land management practices.
The NFF President had this to say: “This is a critical announcement that will help farmers understand and respond to climate change, and access new environmental markets.”
The NFF will seek to work with the Australian Government on the design and implementation of this measure.
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.
“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,” said Ms Simson.
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 the NFF said “what this Budget doesn’t do is deliver on the Government’s clear election commitment to establish a sustainable funding stream for our biosecurity system.”
The NFF Hort Council is determined to see sustainable biosecurity funding and effort will be brought to task to see this addressed when the next Budget is handed down.
Water projects dropped
The Budget contains $4.6 billion in cuts to water infrastructure projects committed to under the previous Government.
The Budget does instead fund water projects – including in the Cairns region and Tasmania – with an allocation of $278 million over 5 years.
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.
The NFF have been clear in their representations to the Government 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 the budget will send a shiver down their spine,” said Ms Simson.
Connectivity funding delivery welcomed
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.
The NFF President stated that “‘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.”
“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 changes
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,” said the NFF President.
“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 a range of transitional initiatives for farm energy,” said the NFF President.
Where to from here
Avocados Australia contributed our position on the budget to the NFF Hort Council and we will continue to push for the sector’s best interests to further our case on issues. We will communicate our progress in future issues of Avo Insider. Members who would like to provide their views on the budget and any additional points on the issues affecting their operations are welcome to email the AAL communications manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was produced for the November 2022 edition of the Avo Insider.