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Federal Budget light on good news for ag sectors

Emma Alsop, 15/05/2024

Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivered the 2024-25 Federal Budget last night. Photo: Jim Chalmers

THE 2024-25 Federal Budget has received mixed reviews from the agricultural sector, with industry groups criticising the absence of new infrastructure and drought funding, but welcoming new climate-change and renewable-energy initiatives.

Much of the fine print in last night’s budget has been overwhelmed by this week’s developments over the government’s decision to ban live sheep exports.

Leading the ag headlines in Budget papers handed down last night is new spending under the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry portfolio was the allocation of $107 million over five years to phase out live sheep exports by sea.

The package aims to help the Australian sheep industry transition away from live exports by 1 May, 2028, and includes measures to move the industry towards onshore processing and funding for overseas market development for Australian sheepmeat.

The government is also allocating $519.1M from the Future Drought Fund over the next eight years from 2024-25, including $132M to continue the eight drought resilience adoption and innovation hubs, $83.2M for learning and development opportunities for farmers, and $36M in support of farmers’ mental wellbeing.

A total of $63.8M has been earmarked for the next decade to drive down emissions in the agricultural sector, alongside $48M to improve the Australian Carbon Credit Unit scheme.

To support agricultural trade, $2M has been allocated to help Australian agricultural exporters re-establish commercial ties to China, as well as to “diversify into other markets”.

The government is investing $1.9M over three years from 2024-25 to provide targeted grants to industry-led projects with benefits across the entire agriculture sector.

The funding supports the extension of existing activities for National Farm Safety Week and work experience opportunities for young people interested in agriculture through the AgCAREERSTART pilot.

NFF disappointed

National Farmers’ Federation president David Jochinke said he was disappointed in the lack of new funding for producers.

NFF president David Jochinke

He said while it appeared that the Future Drought Fund would be the recipient of a substantial funding boost, only $42.2M was new money.

“Peel back the surface and the disappointment appears,” Mr Jochinke said.

“The biggest spend in ‘agriculture’ is not even for farmers, it’s appeasing the extreme activists and to generate inner-city votes at the next election.

“The budget confirms $107M to cancel the trade, and to add insult to injury, only $64.6M will go to producers and the supply chain.”

GrainGrowers chair Rhys Turton said while the organisation welcomed some of the positive initiatives included in the Budget, funding was “not at the level to make a significant difference to operational efficiencies”.

Mr Turton said as an example the investments in road maintenance and safety programs would provide critical funds to address a range of issues with the declining road network, but would not provide immediate benefits.

“The real problem however is that much of this funding is long term and while this is welcome, the state of our roads and bridges is such that we need investment now to prevent current issues from getting even worse,” Mr Turston said.

Mr Jochinke said NFF welcomed funding towards emissions reduction efforts in agriculture as part of the Agriculture and Land Sector Plan.

“This announcement should prove a solid down payment on investing in agriculture’s approach to addressing climate change.

“We look forward to understanding the detail.”

FCA welcomes Solar Sunshot

National advocacy group, Farmers for Climate Action, also supported the additional funding for emissions reduction featured in yesterday’s Budget.

FCA chief executive officer Natalie Collard also welcomed the $1 billion investment in the Solar Sunshot program, which would support the manufacturing of solar panels in regional Australia.

“It’s good to see a commitment to invest in helping farmers reduce carbon pollution, hand in hand with the net zero sector plan for agriculture,” Ms Collard said.

Infrastructure funding limited

While the Budget provided a massive $16.5B for new and existing infrastructure projects across Australia over 10 years, the investments provided little to future-proof agricultural industries, primarily bulk commodities, and regional communities.

Positive elements include $1.7B for rural roads and $540M to improve the reliability of the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s interstate freight network.

The additional funding for ARTC includes $140M for culvert upgrades in South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales, $100M to support larger trains between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie in WA, $150M for track rehabilitation and operational upgrades between Albury and Sydney, and $150M to upgrade the Maroona-Portland line in Victoria.

The government will also provide $5M in 2024-25 to develop a business case and progress technical and environmental planning for an intermodal terminal in Parkes in central NSW to support the Inland Rail program.

NSW Farmers president Xavier Martin said, while any funding was welcomed, more was needed to get the road and rail networks to meet the needs of producers.

“[O]ur roads and bridges are crumbling around us with little to no support to get them up to scratch, so it seems the Federal Government has failed the bush in its budget this year,” Mr Martin said.

“While we welcome renewed funding for drought, and particularly for the Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hubs, there really is little other positive news to come out of the federal budget for our farmers.”

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King addressing the media at Caloundra. Photo: Catherine King

No new Inland Rail money

The Budget Papers have also provided no new funding towards progressing the Inland Rail project.

During a press conference at Caloundra, Qld, on Monday, Minister for Infrastructure Catherine King said there was “money sitting within the contingency reserve to build Inland Rail, including to bring that project into Queensland”.

“We haven’t taken any money out of the Inland Rail,” Ms King said, adding that the government was not putting time-frames on when the funds would be removed from contingency reserves and put into delivering the project.

“We’re prioritising getting it to [Parkes] and that work is continuing getting environmental and planning approvals and once we have those, we will have a better indication, both of its cost and of its timeline.”

Optimism for ‘Made in Australia’

Two key features of the Budget, the Future Made in Australia program and a suite of initiatives support hydrogen production, have been welcomed by the grains industry.

Grain Producers Australia chief executive Colin Bettles has indicated that the industry is optimistic about the possible benefits new funding for low carbon liquid fuels could bring grain growers.

The Future Made in Australia includes funding to develop the low carbon fuels supply chain, which could provide benefits for the grains industry if feedstocks, such as canola, sorghum and residues are utilised.

The program features $18.5M over four years to develop a certification scheme for low-carbon liquid fuels and $1.5M to investigate costs and benefits of introducing mandates or other demand-side measures for low carbon liquid fuels.

Nufarm chief executive officer Greg Hunt said Australian Federal Budget support for low carbon liquid fuels was a win for farmers.

“The Federal Budget’s funding and measures will encourage increased production and use of low carbon fuels, accelerate the economy’s decarbonisation, create new industries and jobs including for rural and regional areas,” Mr Hunt said.

“Local farmers are already helping to decarbonise transport in Europe with most of Western Australia’s canola harvest exported there for use in biofuels.

“Australian Government support is essential to building local demand for low carbon liquid fuels so farmers have a well-functioning local market to sell their feedstocks.”

Reforms promoting local green hydrogen production could also provide energy supply for local manufacturing of low carbon emission fertilisers.

New funding for this industry includes $8B billion over the decade to introduce a new Hydrogen Production Tax Incentive, extend the Hydrogen Headstart program, and provide an additional round of the First Nations Renewable Hydrogen Engagement Fund.

Additionally, $17.1M over four years from 2024-25 (and an additional $2.5 million in 2028-29), will support implementation of the National Hydrogen Strategy, putting Australia on the path to being a global player in hydrogen.

 

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