WITH a bold aim to cut spending and undertake structural reform, agriculture has emerged largely unscathed from this year's Federal Budget, which was delivered by Treasurer Joe Hockey in Canberra on Tuesday night.
Ahead of the 2014 Federal Budget, the NFF sought a responsible approach from the Government that would not undermine Ag's ability to remain innovative and competitive into the future. Whilst the budget contained both good and bad news for Ag, the NFF welcomed the Government's commitment to uphold most of its election promises. Please see below for a breakdown of the main points of this year's Federal Budget.
Pictured below, NFF President Brent Finlay. Photo courtesy Colin Bettles, Fairfax Agricultural Media
Research and Development
The NFF has welcomed the Government's commitment to deliver new technologies and applied research for farmers to utilise, by continuing to match existing levies for R and D, that align with existing arrangements. The Government held its election promise, by providing $100M over the next four years to fund research in partnership with the Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs). A move strongly welcomed by industry.
The Government has honoured its commitment to support farmers, families and communities hit by the current drought, by providing the $320M drought package. The package builds on the PM's announcement of a proposed drought package earlier this year. The package will be compiled of $280M for concessional loans; $12M to assist with installing water-related infrastructure; $10M for pest management and; $10.7M for access to social and mental health services.
Frozen from 2001 under the Howard government, all Australians will now face a twice-a-year increase in the fuel excise. Following consistent calls from the NFF and members, the Government will ensure the off-road diesel fuel rebate is indexed in line with the fuel excise increase. The NFF fought hard for the rebate's survival, and is pleased to see the Government had listened to its calls.
Small Exporters in certain sectors who comply with export certification registration charges, will now have the opportunity to apply for a small exporter's rebate for registration costs up to $5,000. The rebate is focused towards improved market access, with the Government committing $15M to the project over four years.
AgVet Chemical Use
The Government will provide $8M over four years to improve access by farmers for minor use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. The funding will be directed towards the development of tools for improving access to chemicals labelled as high priority, and enhancing existing legislative and administrative arrangements.
Australia is set to receive a 'biosecurity flying squad' as part of the Government's $20M budget allocation towards improving the country's preparedness and responsiveness of major disease outbreaks.
The Government has committed an additional $11.6 billion for an infrastructure growth package, with much of it expected to go towards roads. The NFF has welcomed the news, but remains adamant that the funding should not only benefit urban zones, but should be directed to rural and regional areas that need it most.
On the negative side of the Budget, there has been some disappointment across the sector, particularly cuts to the National Landcare Programme—a long-running and favoured environmental scheme instigated by farmers and rural communities.
The NFF was disappointed to see that funding of the 25 year old Landcare scheme had been slashed in this year's Budget. The cuts will effectively halve the scheme's funds from $2 billion to $1 billion over the next five years. In its place, the Government will establish the 'Green Army Programme', a 15,000 strong workforce (aged from 17-24) that will work on environmental and heritage conservation fields, and allow them to further their careers in conservation management. The new program's effectiveness is yet to be determined by industry.
Whilst RIRDC will continue to recieve $8.5M per year in government funding, as well as funding from statutory levies, the government will cut funding of approximately $11M over the next four years from its annual expenditure to RIRDC.
CRCs and CSIRO
Rural programs operating under the CSIRO will also be affected by cuts announced in the budget, with CSIRO projected to lose $146.8 million, and more than 500 jobs, over the next four years. In addition, the government has reduced funding for Cooperative Research Centres by $80M over the same period with the next round of funding to be scrapped all together.
More Programme Cuts
The Government will also scrap the Exotic Disease Prepardness Programme over four years, with estimated savings of $1.8M. In addition, the government will achieve savings from $1.1M over the next three years by scrapping Australia's Brand for Food Programme.
The NFF is disappointed to see the National Water Commission abolished. However, the NFF looks forward to working with the Government to ensure an appropriate and independent body oversee national water reform.
For more on this year's budget, you can read our media release here.
In partnership with Suncorp Bank, the NFF recently held its inaugural Farm Finance Forum in Canberra. The forum brought together key thought leaders with practical experience in agriculture to examine how family farm business models can successfully compete in the future, and the different models they can consider or adapt to help them do so.
For more on the day, you can read our media release here.
> NFF CONGRESS: SAVE THE DATE!
Lock in the 21-22 October for the NFF 2014 National Congress! At 'Producing Our Future' we'll explore core business, left-field ideas and blue-sky opportunities for agriculture at the grass-roots, Australian and global levels. Contact the NFF on 02 6269 5666 for more information.