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Budget’s $134m biosecurity funding ‘first step’

Terry Sim, 26/10/2022

THE ALBANESE Government has failed to deliver a clear sustainable biosecurity funding stream in last night’s Federal Budget, prompting an ultimatum from the National Farmers Federation.

Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt said the government was injecting $134.1 million into the biosecurity system to ensure Australia remains free of Foot and Mouth Disease and Lumpy Skin Disease.

Murray Watt

Murray Watt

He said this was a “first step towards delivering our election commitment of a sustainable biosecurity funding model that allows the system to respond to increasing threats.”

Mr Watt said the government was also fast-tracking $61.6m over the next two years toward supporting Indonesia to tackle the diseases and boosting Australia’s frontline efforts.

“Originally budgeted over four years, this funding will greatly assist our overall efforts to fill the gaps in our biosecurity system while strengthening our defenses in Northern Australia.”

However, NFF president Fiona Simson, while welcoming the government’s allocation of additional funding to biosecurity measures, noted that “much of this is comprised of previously announced measures, including from the March budget.”

“The fast tracking of preparedness, detection and response measures, detector dog funding as well as additional funding for traceability improvement are all important measures to bolster our biosecurity preparedness.

“These additional commitments are important, but what this budget doesn’t do is deliver on the government’s clear election commitment to establish a sustainable funding stream for our biosecurity system,” Ms Simson said.

“We appreciate that we’re still relatively early in the term of this government and work is currently underway, but sustainable biosecurity funding is something the sector is unwavering in its expectation to see implemented when the next budget is handed down.”

Mr Watt listed the key agricultural budget initiatives as:

  • $61.6 million fast tracked to bolster Australia’s biosecurity system
  • $11.7 million for more detector dogs
  • $46.7 million increased funding for traceability initiatives
  • $204.8 million for the forestry sector
  • $20.8 million to prepare for the next drought
  • $4 million to establish a new Inspector-General for animal welfare
  • $12.3 million to support regional trade events
  • $8.1 million to develop Australia’s seaweed farming
  • $302 million to invest in sustainable agriculture through the Natural Heritage Trust

He said the government is doubling funding for traceability initiatives that would greatly assist in protecting the livestock industry in the event of a disease outbreak.

“We are working with industry and states and territory Agriculture Ministers on a national approach to improve agricultural traceability, with a commitment to implement a new scheme by January 1, 2025.

“This includes a significant contribution of $46.7m towards Australia’s livestock traceability ‘contact tracing’ system to maintain our world class system and ensure fast recovery from any potential disease outbreaks and protect Australia’s export trade,” he said.

However, it is still unclear which key biosecurity budget items make up the $134.1 billion figure quoted by Mr Watt.

More focus needed on food supply issues

The National Farmers’ Federation also called on the government to increase its focus on food supply issues, with Ms Simson claiming more could be done to increase production and contain food price inflation.

“While this budget delivers on fantastic election commitments in areas like connectivity, it is also wanting when it comes to some of agriculture’s greatest challenges.

“Farmers are in the grip of a severe labour crisis, facing skyrocketing costs, and currently experiencing flooding – in some cases for the third time in 12 months,” she said.

Ms Simson said there are steps the government can and should take to boost output and ease supply and cost issues.

“Things like improving access to labour, bolstering supply chain infrastructure, and securing our access to water.

“This is clearly a transitional budget and we anticipate further measures in the next, more traditional May budget,” she said.

PALM promise ‘underdelivered’ says NFF

Ms Simson said the labour crisis is a major barrier to farm production in Australia, “and instead of decisive action to end that crisis – tonight’s budget contains a setback.”

“The budget reveals that Labor’s election commitment to cover worker travel costs under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) Scheme will instead be replaced with an underwriting scheme.

“This commitment to help with the cost of bringing in Pacific workers was a consolation prize for the scrapping of the Ag Visa,” she said.

“Now it becomes the latest in a series of bitter blows and disappointments for farmers pleading for an end to this crisis.

“As the workforce crisis drags on, farmers are making the difficult decision to scale back production or leave the industry entirely – leaving Australia more vulnerable to price and supply shocks.”

Dams go down the drain

Ms Simson said the budget contains $4.6 billion in cuts to water infrastructure projects committed by the previous Federal Government.“Funded through the National Water Grid, the $5.4 billion Hells Gates Dam will no longer proceed, nor will planned improvements to the Dungowan, Emu Swamp and Wyangala dams, or the Hughenden Irrigation District (collectively funded for $899.5 million).

“The budget does instead fund water projects – including in the Cairns region and Tasmania – with an allocation of $278 million over five years,” she said.

“We know that to grow Australian agriculture in an increasingly volatile climate, we need to improve access to reliable water supplies.

“It’s disappointing that we seem unlikely to break our drought on major water storage upgrades any time soon.”

Open door to water buybacks will alarm farmers

Ms Simson said the budget papers signal an unpublished number has been allocated to deliver water recovery under the Murray Darling Basin Plan. The number is withheld due to commercial sensitivities.

“We’ve been clear that we want further on farm water buybacks off the table.

“Communities are nervous about the government’s approach to this issue, and the number concealed in tonight’s budget will send a shiver down their spine,” she said.

“Communities deserve transparency as to how this recovery will be undertaken if funding decisions are now being taken.”

Connectivity funding delivery welcomed by the bush

The NFF welcomed a funding package of more than $757 million to fund a suite of connectivity measures from the Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia plan, as well as additional funding for current programs including the Regional Connectivity Program and Mobile Black Spot Programs.

The budget improves on the government’s election commitment to deliver connectivity in the bush and builds on investments made into the National Broadband Network (NBN), Ms Simson said.

“Connectivity is critical for productivity, safety and social connectivity in the bush.

“The sector welcomes the budgeting of the previously announced $30 million for on-farm connectivity, $20 million for an audit of mobile coverage and $6 million for the Regional Tech Hub’,” she said.

“These commitments are extremely welcomed by the sector, but can’t just be a flash in the pan.

“Australia is a big country and we need sustained investment to ensure services in the bush keep pace with those in the city.”

Infrastructure spend takes a reverse tree change

The NFF said the budget commitment to The Growing Regions Program and Regional Precincts and Partnerships Program of $1 billion over three years failed to offset the scrapping of various existing regional programs.

“We’re continuing to see more and more Australians leave the major cities for a life in the regions.

“While that’s fantastic to see, it’s placing extreme pressure on infrastructure and services in the bush,” Ms Simson said.

“The Precincts and Partnerships Fund moves towards a model of smart, place-based investment championed by the NFF.

“It’s fantastic to see the government leading the way to a more strategic and collaborative approach to regional development,” she said.

“Unfortunately, the quantum of funds will disappoint regional Australians, as new programs fail to fill the void left by cuts.

“While more Australians are heading to the regions, it seems government investment is heading in the other direction.”

Sustainable farming commitment welcomed

However, Ms Simson said the NFF welcomed the $302.1 million for the farm sector in the $1.1 billion over six years to extend funding for the Natural Heritage Trust to support sustainable management of Australia’s environment.

“We welcome the $302 million to support the transition of the farm sector towards sustainable farming and land management practices.

“This is a critical announcement that will help farmers understand and respond to climate change, and access new environmental markets,” she said.

“NFF will seek to work with the Government on the design and implementation of this measure.

“We also welcome the restating of the measure that would support the introduction of legislation to treat carbon and biodiversity income as farm income,” she said.

National Reconstruction Fund to boost food and agriculture

Ms Simson said the NFF was looking forward to what opportunities the $500 million commitment in the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund can unlock for the farm sector.

“This investment will help to offset the cancellation of over $300 million unspent from the Modern Manufacturing Strategy – an existing grants program which also included a focus on food and drink manufacturing.”

In addition to these investments, the budget includes several grants to agrifood businesses including Costa Group, Inghams, and a pilot Food Manufacturing Hub in NSW.

“We’re passionate supporters of doing more with our food and fibre on Australian shores,” Ms Simson said.

Farmer support for climate transition welcomed

The NFF welcomed funding to deliver the government’s signature climate change policy – Powering Australia.

“We look forward to working with the government to deliver priorities for agriculture including for improved abatement methodologies and low emissions technologies.

“This includes funding to especially economically reduce livestock emissions, and a range of transitional initiatives for farm energy,” Ms Simson said.

Warning on Inspector-General of Animal Welfare funding

The Federal Budget promises $4 million over four years to establish an Inspector-General of Animal Welfare by expanding the functions of the Office of the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports.

Ms Simson said Australia’s farmers and live exporters are world leaders in animal welfare practices.

“It is important that the office does not add unnecessary red tape and is informed by science and not driven by ideology or political motives.”

Mr Watt said the government was providing $100m for an Australia‑wide institute to deliver forestry research and development; $8.6m to extend the life of the 11 regional forestry hubs until 2027, and $10m for forestry workforce training needs.

He said the $20.8m dedicated for the government to be prepared for the next drought would also increase adoption of established drought resilience research.

The government is also providing $12.3m to support regional trade events, like Beef Australia 2024 in Rockhampton.

“The Albanese Government will also deliver on its commitment to introduce mandatory country of origin labelling, greatly assisting consumers find fresh, local seafood, supporting our world-class fisheries industry.”

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