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Flood recovery a nation-building priority

27 January 2011

WHILE political debate rages over a levy to partially fund the Federal Government’s $5.6 billion flood recovery plan, Australian farmers are fixed on replacing, and improving on, the critical infrastructure destroyed during this unprecedented crisis.

“A levy may be a hot topic in Canberra but, ultimately, the Government is responsible for getting the rebuilding job done,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Jock Laurie said. “How it is funded is a matter for the Government, which the electorate will judge in due course.

“Today’s $5.6 billion to replace critical infrastructure is a substantial commitment that will give comfort to all affected that they won’t be forgotten. The dramatic images captured by news cameras over so many weeks have given Australians not affected by these floods a taste of the anguish and devastation heaped upon countless farmers, families, businesses and entire communities. As we speak today of recovery, many in Queensland and Victoria are bracing for the worst.

“The quantum of the flood recovery plan is a commensurate response. We are seeing a disaster unprecedented in our history and, for farmers, decimating a sector that underpins the very existence of regional communities and remains the backbone of our national economy.

“This disaster is unparalleled in both scale and severity. Floods have washed away crops and livestock across vast areas in all six states. The loss of vital infrastructure and assets will amount to much more. This comes on top of exacting a tragic loss of life.

“As such, it warrants a recovery effort on a magnitude akin to post-war reconstruction. It is imperative that industries and communities get back on their feet quickly and today’s funding commitment provides great confidence that genuine investment in the rebuilding effort will go where it’s needed.

“Any failure to do so will see an even greater negative impact on the national economy, dislocating a large portion of the regional population only to place yet more strain on urban centres.

“Today’s announcement is also important because the Government has not blinked in its focus on returning the Budget to surplus, nor does it ignore the opportunity for strategic infrastructure building to replace what has been lost and improve on it to meet future needs.

“The critical questions now are how this funding will be allocated and rolled out. Too often these logistical and strategic aspects derail the best intentions. As a nation, we must simultaneously have an eye to immediate recovery and long-term efficiency and growth.

“We must ensure funds are targeted consistent with long-term infrastructure needs and leverage up local and state government input. The opportunity arising from the carnage is to get people and produce moving more efficiently than ever before.

“The Government must also leverage off existing private investment to coordinate and maximise the rebuilding effort. For example, this could include accelerated depreciation on infrastructure spending in flood-affected areas or tax concessions on Farm Management Deposit withdrawals.

“The Government will need to turn its attention to policies that get small, medium and large businesses up and running in regional Australia to drive the new infrastructure once it is in place.”

[ENDS]

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