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No ‘fat’ in agriculture, despite report findings

1 May 2014

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has expressed initial concern in relation to some of the recommendations in the National Commission of Audit report released this afternoon, after early consideration of the report’s recommendations.

Chief Executive of the NFF, Mr Matt Linnegar, says that the NFF acknowledges the compelling case for a rethink of the respective roles and responsibilities of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. He said the NFF also welcomes a closer look at domestic minimum wage rates and their effect on the industry’s competitiveness.

However, Mr Linnegar also said that recommendations such as reducing industry assistance in the form of government commitment to research and development, drought funding, and abolishing Rural Financial Counsellors suggests the Commission of Audit has a limited understanding of agriculture.

“The agriculture sector understands the pressure the budget is under. Indeed, after many recent droughts farmers know a bit about tight finances. But the fact is, there is simply no 'fat' to cut in agricultural investment by the Government if the ultimate aim is a stronger economy.

“The Commission report claims that industry assistance has been increasing. This is not the case for the agriculture sector. According to the OECD figures, Australian Government provided support to agriculture was worth almost 13 per cent of farm income in 1986; and the figure is now less than 3 per cent. This compares with our international competitors receiving up to 60 per cent.

“We have some of the best research and development programs in the world. Innovation in agriculture—through initiatives such as our rural research and development corporations and cooperative research centres—has been one of the major factors underpinning the success of our industry. The benefits of a strong industry flow to all Australians,” said Mr Linnegar

Other areas of concern to the NFF include proposed cuts to the Farm Concessional Loan Scheme, Export Market Development Grants, the National Water Commission, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority and the Landcare program.

“Government’s role is to invest in outcomes that deliver a public benefit. And in several of these areas, there is a clear role for Government,” Mr Linnegar said.

“We will keep the dialogue open with Government to make sure there is clear understanding of the impact of a number of the recommendations, and ensure they respond in considered way, particularly leading into the budget, which will be delivered in less than a fortnight’s time,” he said.

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