Thursday 16 May 2013
Budget forgets food & fibre
This week's Federal Budget has brought little change for Australian farmers - and what little change there has been is simply a re-diversion of funds from one Government-funded project to another.
The NFF's frank assessment of the Budget, which was handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan on Tuesday night, is that while it is good to see that agriculture has been spared from major cuts, it is disappointing that the Government has not committed new funds to projects, but is rather moving funds around within agriculture and other portfolios.
The biggest news for farmers is that the Government has announced $99.4 million in farm household support under the new drought policy assistance package. But these funds were already committed to the Government's Caring for our Country project - the environmental management program that provides funding support to help farm managers and landholders manage our natural resources on behalf of the community.
Essentially, what the Government has done is 'rob Peter to pay Paul'. For more on the Budget and what it means for farmers, read our media release.
Focus on farmer debt & drought
Over the past three weeks, the Federal Government has made two announcements regarding farm debt levels and drought, as rural debt levels tighten their grip, and as farmers experience a return to dry conditions.
The first, the Farm Finance package, was announced at the end of April and provides a series of provisions to help support farmers, including making available concessional loans of up to $650,000 to assist farmers in restructuring their debt.
While this is a Federal Government package, all details regarding farmer eligibility and the availability of the support mechanisms are contingent upon the States and Territories signing up to the deal - and to date, none have.
The second announcement relates to Australia's national drought policy. Unlike the Farm Finance package, all of the State and Territory agricultural ministers and their respective governments have now signed up to the National Drought Program Reform - however there is little detail underpinning the elements of the policy. The one piece of information we do have now, after this week's Budget, is the farm household support announcement (see article above).
No pub test, apply the farm test
The Coalition has released its industrial relations policy, and while we have welcomed a move towards greater flexibility in workplace arrangements, we believe it does not go far enough on support for small businesses, including farms.
People are agriculture's greatest resource, so while it's good to see the Coalition releasing its policy well ahead of the election, we would like to see greater detail and a commitment to action prior to 2016.
We believe the current Fair Work laws do not go far enough in building our workforce, developing our skills and expertise, and allowing for greater flexibility, and in releasing the policy Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he would consider changes to the laws if he wins the 2016 election. But while this is good news for farmers, we cannot afford to wait that long: real change
Mr Abbott spoke of the 'pub test' for any future changes to workplace relations laws - we will be applying the 'farm test' to ensure that any proposed changes benefit the farming sector. For more, read our media release.
RBA cuts rates, banks urged to pass on
The RBA last week cut the official interest rate by 0.25 percent, bringing the official cash rate to a record low of 2.75 percent.
The rate cut comes at an ideal time for farmers, who in many areas are facing a ‘perfect storm’ caused by the high Australian dollar, increased input costs, softening commodity prices, a return to dry conditions and the cost of accessing finance.
We urge the rural lending sector to pass this rate cut on in full to our farmers. The NFF's April Agribusiness Loan Monitor shows that the banks have not been passing on the RBA’s interest rate cuts in full. The May Monitor is due out next week, and will show which banks have passed on the latest cuts, and by how much.
More red tape: Agvet chem bill
The House of Representatives has this week passed the agricultural and veterinary chemicals amendment bill - potentially passing another cost and regulatory burden onto our farmers.
The bill, which is supposed to make the system under which chemicals are registered for use in Australia more efficient, could actually have an adverse effect and add an extra layer of regulation for farmers - at a time when the Government has committed to cutting red tape.
While we have welcomed the Government's response to our calls to delay the implementation of the bill for one year, allowing our farmers and our regulatory systems to prepare for the changes, they have not resolved some of the underlying problems with the bill, including the risk that this bill could add extra costs into farmers' businesses. For more, read our media release.
The NFF AGvocate
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