IN THIS SECTION:
Federal Budget 2007: Investing in a sustainable future
8 May 2007
TONIGHT the Australian Government and the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) ushered in an historic partnership that acknowledges farmers’ important – and growing – contribution to the environmental, economic and social lifeblood of the nation.
"The 2007 Federal Budget reflects the key imperatives we have pushed in calling for a "generational shift in thinking" to deliver long-term 'nation-building' programs that recognise and build upon modern farming's sustainability and competitiveness," NFF President David Crombie said.
"Importantly, the first down payment on the NFF's Environmental Stewardship initiative – of $50 million in its initial four years – breaks the cycle of short-term planning in environmental programs, and recognises farmers as Australia’s frontline environmental managers.
"We expect that this is only the beginning, as the range of environmental outcomes the community demands will require a continued investment into the future over the remaining 11 years of the 15-year life of the Environmental Stewardship contracts.
"The NFF's proposal is a revolutionary initiative that has challenged Government in its funding outlays, requiring commitment beyond a four-year cycle. However, sensible environmental outcomes must be committed to over the long-haul – and in partnership with farmers.
"Environmental Stewardship recognises farmers in going 'over and beyond their normal duty of care' in safeguarding the environment – as, literally, the environmental icons the broader community expect to be preserved are located in farmers' backyards.
"When you note that Australian farmers are custodians of 60% of the Australian landmass, spend $3.3 billion-a-year of their own money each year on natural resource management, plant over 20 million trees-a-year – solely for conservation purposes, and that 92% of farmers have environmental programs in place to manage and preserve their land, farmers are in the vanguard of delivering serious, long-term environmental outcomes.
"The preservation of box-gum woodlands – the first priority to be funded – builds on the outstanding work farmers already do in delivering environmental sustainability.
"The Environmental Stewardship program is over and above the $2 billion recommitment to the Natural Heritage Trust, which is vitally important to enabling local communities to develop and implement regionally-specific natural resource management plans, and a re-funded national Landcare program.
"Supply chain efficiency is critical to maximising the price competitiveness of Australian exports – especially agriculture, which generates 20% of all Australian exports and earns the country around $30 billion-a-year in foreign income.
"The $22.3 billion Auslink package is a significant and important investment – representing a 41% increase over Auslink 1.
"It is vital that the productivity gains of agriculture are not constrained by the transport sector, as too often farmers invest in on-farm transport infrastructure only to face an unsafe and inefficient public road and/or rail system.
"Despite key elements of Australia’s transport system bordering on the dark ages, farmers have achieved average productivity growth of 3.8% per year over the past 20 years.
"Our out-dated rail network and an inherently inefficient and over-regulated transport system are punctuated by limited inland and local level road capacity and poor connectivity to freight hubs.
"It is essential the implementation of tonight’s Auslink commitment overcomes these ingrained impediments. We desperately need our transport supply chain brought up to scratch as an essential and overdue investment in our national economic prosperity.
Water & Capacity Building
"There is no more important issue for Australian farmers – indeed, all Australians – than water supply through effective, efficient management and reform.
"The Australian Government's $10 billion National Plan for Water Security (NPWS) takes up many of the threads of the NFF’s Budget call for 'capacity building' investment – including on drought.
"While the Australian community has stood by farmers in extending and streamlining Exceptional Circumstances drought assistance, farmers are the first to recognise a more strategic and longer-term vision is necessary – shifting the policy paradigm from 'drought relief' to 'drought management' and, ultimately, 'drought preparedness'.
"The NFF supports the 'intent' of the NPWS in fast-tracking the National Water Initiative – which the NFF was instrumental in establishing in 2004 – to deliver efficient water markets, best practice pricing, world-class infrastructure and planning that gives farmers certainty and security.
"We will be talking to the Government in the months ahead regarding the 'non-water supply' areas necessary to help drought-proof Australia, including in the areas of fodder management, conversion to conservation tillage equipment, replacing high-use irrigation with water efficient systems (i.e. drip irrigation) and others.
"The NFF’s other key 'capacity building' priority was for a strategic recommitment to the 'Agriculture – Advancing Australia' package, which, importantly, has been revamped and made more flexible to provide modern farming with new business tools.
"The allocated $254.7 million includes a doubling of the 'Advancing Agricultural Industries' program, up to $40 million and reinvigorated FarmBis and FarmHelp programs.
"The NFF also welcomes the lowering of tax thresholds announced in tonight's Budget. The changes will provide welcomes relief to farmers whose incomes have been ravaged by the prolonged and widespread.
"In addition, we hope the taxation changes will provide added incentive for further workforce participation, and thereby help to alleviate the current labour shortages facing regional Australia."
Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.
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