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2010: Time Rudd Govt delivered on nation-building rhetoric

1 February 2010

“AFTER two years in government and lots of reviews it is time for the Rudd Government to put in place a strategic and linked set of programs that empower our farmers to meet the challenges of feeding a hungry world,” is the blunt assessment National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie made as the peak farm body released its Federal Budget Submission 2010 today.

“I note that on 20 January in Adelaide the Prime Minister picked up on the sentiment of the NFF’s call for a ‘National Infrastructure Strategy’ contained in our Federal Budget Submission 2010, which we lodged before Christmas. But Australia desperately needs more than simply another review or inquiry.

“Our farm sector has continued to deliver through the worst drought on record with among the lowest level of Government support of any farm sector in any agricultural country. Added to this has been the cost impost borne by our farm sector that has allowed Australia to meet its Kyoto commitments. This cost has been absorbed by farmers for the benefit of all Australians. Now is the time to back our farm sector and Budget 2010 is the opportunity to do so.

“In our NFF Federal Budget Submission 2010 we have laid out some of the glaring gaps in the Government’s nation-building agenda that require urgent action.”

Some of the NFF’s key 2010 Federal Budget priorities include:

National Infrastructure Strategy – it’s needed now

“We don’t need another big dollar announcement in regard to our dilapidated freight system,” Mr Crombie said. “That’s all too familiar.

“Infrastructure Australia, set up by the Rudd Government in April 2008, along with the $20 billion ‘Building Australia Fund’, established on 1 January 2009, have not yet delivered clarity on a strategic freight solution so desperately required throughout regional Australia.

“Capital works for a system-wide overhaul to meet Australia’s burgeoning freight task – which is set to double nationally by 2020 and triple along the eastern seaboard – is needed now. Our ports and fragmented road and rail networks are choking and putting our vital export performance at risk.

“Unprecedented global and domestic food and mineral demand is headed our way. The world’s population is on a steep increase and expected to reach nine billion by 2050 – and 35 million in Australia. Our farmers can contribute to meeting this increased demand, but Australia’s infrastructure networks and the regulations surrounding them are simply not geared to deal with the volumes required. We can produce it, but we can’t deliver it.

“A ‘National Infrastructure Strategy’ to identify and upgrade roads, and investment in rail and ports that tie those facilities together in a seamless, efficient freight system, is decades overdue. The 2010 Federal Budget is an opportunity not to be missed.”

Research and Development – no productivity growth without it

“Last year’s Federal Budget saw the Rudd Government make the poor decision to cut Australia’s agricultural research effort,” Mr Crombie said.

“If we are to meet the daily food needs of 35 million Australians by 2050 and emerge as a major food bowl for the world’s projected nine billion people, then productivity growth through agricultural research will be pivotal.

“The Prime Minister’s recent comments about the need to boost productivity growth are valid, but so far inconsistent with his Government’s actions.

“It is a fact that the Australian farm sector’s leading productivity growth of 2.8% per year over the past 30 years is now in jeopardy. Those gains were made on the back of research spending in the 1960s and 70s, as investment often takes decades to yield tangible applications.

“The focus for research is also critical. Environmental impact and climate are important but not at the expense of production research that gives farmers the tools to respond to change and to generate efficiencies. It is also good business. A recent study shows that for every dollar spent in agricultural research in Australia the nation derives $11 in value, or an 11-fold return on investment.

“Today, Australia’s agricultural research and development investment lags behind many developing countries. It is appalling that Australia’s agricultural research intensity has been allowed to slide to levels not seen for 30 years. The Rudd Government has the opportunity to turnaround this disturbing trend.”

Tax Reform – fix the bias against regional Australia

“As part of the Federal Government’s Review of Australia’s Future Tax System, chaired by Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, the NFF has called for tax reform to take account of the bias borne by regional Australians,” Mr Crombie said.

“There are long-standing inequities for people living and working in regional Australia and these need to be addressed, particularly in view of increasing pressure on already stressed urban centres.

“The Tax Zone Rebate Scheme was introduced in 1945, recognising the higher costs of living and the reduced services and amenities outside metropolitan centres. However, it has not been revisited for decades. It’s time it was.

“Existing cost burdens are likely to be compounded should the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme come into being. To date there has not been enough recognition of this reality by the Government. For example, increasing fuel and energy costs will see regional businesses, families and entire communities disproportionately affected.

“The NFF expects that the Henry Review will recognise these higher costs and take steps to correct the existing and future imposts to living and working in regional Australia.

“Revisiting the Tax Zone Rebate Scheme is one way of overcoming regional pressures, which deserve to be reflected in the Henry Review’s findings and, subsequently, actioned by the Rudd Government as part of its 2010 Federal Budget.”

[ENDS]

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