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Budget ’09: farm sector to sustain nation through dark days

12 May 2009

Statement by NFF Vice-President Charles Burke

THE current economic slowdown shines a bright light on how fundamental our farm sector is to our economy.

People often take agriculture for granted, especially in the good times. But our farm sector is the backbone of the national economy because it’s always there, through the ups and downs. What the somber forecasts tonight herald is that we, as a nation, must play to our strengths.

NFF is pleased the Government will implement a $300 million on-farm water efficiency project.

With state governments failing to deliver water reform projects, the NFF called on the Federal Government to wrest control of the agenda in the Murray-Darling Basin. Tonight the Government did so.

The Government will implement the NFF’s on-farm water-saving infrastructure proposal in the southern Basin, and bypass the states, in a victory for commonsense. It will also invest in on-farm projects in the northern Basin via previously announced state priority projects.

This will see farmers partner with Government to produce more food and fibre with less water and, in doing so, return more water back to the environment. In the process, those on-farm and regional upgrades will create jobs in the bush and build-in efficiency gains for future generations.

It’s an investment that’s good for production, good for the environment, stimulates employment and supports regional communities. It also corrects the imbalance of the Government’s primary focus being on water buy-back… something the NFF has been pushing for months.

Transport infrastructure investment, including road and port funding, is welcomed. It is vital to ensure we can get our agricultural produce to market in the most efficient manner possible to sure up our competitiveness.

Further, support for the Bureau of Met (so we can give farmers access to better seasonal forecasting tools), rural health, ABS, rural education and regional telecommunications are important measures. All are issues identified in NFF’s pre-budget submission.

Farmers will also welcome the small business tax break increase on capital works investment.

However, NFF is deeply disappointed that research and development (R&D) in agriculture, including in the area of climate change research, will be cut. We have built the productivity of our farming industries on the back of R&D but current investment is now at wafer thin levels.

On the back of this cut, tonight’s budget reveals further cuts to the agriculture Department itself. There is no fat to cut in the agriculture portfolio and so the Government needs to explain which functions will now not be delivered.

The irony is that on the back of these cuts, it appears that $464 million over four years will be spent on supporting food security overseas. NFF understands the desire of the community to support people in need, but surely this money should have been spent in Australia first and foremost.

Finally, but extremely importantly, giving farmers certainty on continued drought support, given there are still many families in the grip of what has been a devastating climatic event, is the right thing to do. To be clear, NFF has driven drought reform and remains committed to it, but a reform package without the required funding support to make it work, would have been a disaster. That was a real fear of farmers going into tonight’s budget. It is better to wait to get drought policy right than have a half-baked package.

Given the devil is always in the detail and to ensure there are no other surprises for rural Australia or unintended consequences for our vital farm businesses, NFF will go through tonight’s budget with a fine tooth comb in coming days. Ensuring taxation changes relating to hobby farms do not impact genuine farm operations is a case in point.

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: NFF on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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