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Budget: Agriculture survives but not unscathed

Beef Central, 09/05/2012

The National Farmers Federation says that while agriculture has not emerged unscathed in the tough Federal Budget handed down last night, funding priorities do recognise Australian agriculture’s strong growth prospects.

“The NFF called on the Government to deliver two things in this year’s Budget: to deliver on the funds already committed and promises made and to create a platform for future investment in our food and fibre sectors,” NFF President Jock Laurie said.

“We are pleased that the agricultural sector has largely held its ground in tonight’s Budget and welcome areas of new investment.

“The commitment to $379.9 million towards a new post entry quarantine centre (more detail below) as well as funding towards pest and disease eradication efforts is a positive signal from the Government that improving Australia biosecurity system remains a priority.

“Let’s not pretend that the job of implementing the Beale Reforms is now complete as a result of this announcement – far from it.  However we at least know that our quarantine system is not being compromised while we await the roll out of remaining reforms.

“The NFF also voiced its concerns in the lead up to this year’s Budget that the Caring for Our Country program was at risk.  This program has been vital in providing incentives for those who manage more than 60 per cent of our landscape – Australian farmers – in undertaking environmental management practices.

“Tonight’s commitment to continue funding Caring for Our Country for another five years from 2013-14 is recognition of the vital role that farmers provide in caring for our natural resources.

“The NFF has also been pleased that tonight’s Budget has incorporated support for the work of the Bureau of Meteorology, the commitment of funds to aid the implementation of the EPBC Act reforms and flood levy exemptions for those suffering flood damage.

“On the downside, the NFF is extremely disappointed about the removal of funds for agricultural programs such as FarmReady, the National Weeds and Productivity Program and components of the Community Networks and Capacity Building Program.

“At a time when preparedness and resilience is a key focus for the farm sector, the NFF is particularly dismayed by the inability of the Government to find funds for the FarmReady program – a program that has provided much needed tools for farmers looking to manage their risk.

“This will be tough news for many farmers to swallow, especially as it comes hot on the heels of the recent announcement that interest rate subsidies have now been removed with no replacement policy to fill this void.

“We called on the Government to use this Budget to invest strategically in the future of Australian food and fibre production.  In finding additional funding for biosecurity and natural resource management programs they have laid a modest foundation.

“However, to build a truly strong platform to deliver on the challenges faced by agriculture, more commitment and investment will be required in areas such as productivity based research and development, infrastructure, improving labour capacity and developing new tools to manage climatic risk. 

“Only this will ensure that agriculture can continue to capitalise on the vast opportunities that present themselves and deliver much needed diversity to the Australian economy,” Mr Laurie concluded.

In a press release outlining key points for agriculture, federal agriculture minister Joe Ludwig said a $524.2 million investment in Australia’s biosecurity system would deliver a state-of-the-art quarantine facility and strengthen Australia’s defences against pests and diseases.

This new funding will see more than $1.6 billion invested in biosecurity by the Federal Government since 2009, safeguarding the agricultural sector and underpinning Australia’s strong reputation as a reliable exporter of high-quality food and fibre.

New Post Entry Quarantine Facility

$379.9 million has been allocated over seven years for the construction of a state-of-the-art post-entry quarantine facility in Melbourne.

“This facility will mean Australia will have the newest and most advanced technology available to manage the import of high-risk plant and animal material,” Minister Ludwig said.

“The investment corrects the Howard Government’s short-sighted decision to sell off quarantine centres, only to lease them back, with no maintenance plan, no long term investment strategy and no regard for changing land use in peri-urban areas.”

Stronger front-line defences

Minister Ludwig said $124.5 million has been provided for core frontline biosecurity operations and external review and verification processes.

“Our frontline defences play a pivotal role in protecting Australia from pests and disease. This investment will also support the move towards risk-based operations that will see resources allocated according to the level of risk,” he said. 

“On top of the wider biosecurity investment, a separate $95.9 million over seven years, allocated from the Caring for our Country program, will fund eradication programs for nationally significant pests and diseases.”

Update to century-old legislation

The Gillard Government is committed to ongoing reform of our national biosecurity system. A cornerstone of these reforms will be putting in place a new Biosecurity Act which will replace legislation that was first written in 1908.

“Australia’s biosecurity system is world-class. This important initiative is about modernising our legislation and creating a responsive and flexible operating environment to maintain that world-class standing,” Minister Ludwig said.

“The century-old Quarantine Act has served us well but new legislation is needed for a safe and seamless transition of goods and services across Australia’s borders.”

ICT investment

Minister Ludwig said supporting all of these activities will be a $19.8 million investment over three years in biosecurity ICT infrastructure and systems.

“The investments in today’s Budget further support the Gillard Government’s commitment to building a flexible and responsive biosecurity system that protects Australia’s unique environment and agricultural industries,” Minister Ludwig said.

Caring for our Country

The Gillard Government has announced it will also continue its commitment to the Caring for our Country program for another five years, providing $2.2 billion from 2013-14 to 2017-18. 

"Through Caring for our Country, the Gillard Government is investing in a healthy, better protected and more resilient environment," Environment Minister, Tony Burke, said.
“The great part of Caring for our Country is that it supports volunteers, farmers and community groups to make a real difference to their local area. 
Protecting and conserving our biodiversity and promoting the adoption of sustainable farm practices are priorities for the Gillard Government.

This continued funding will support a broad range of groups to undertake high quality natural resource management projects that are important to local communities and which contribute to the health of our environment into the future.

“It also complements the recently announced Biodiversity Fund that will enhance biodiversity carbon stores and secure a clean energy future for Australia,” Minister Burke said.

Agriculture Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig, said the Government’s commitment to extend Caring for our Country means that work will continue to be carried out by farming communities to manage and protect Australia’s natural resources. 

“This includes funding for Landcare groups, sustainable agriculture innovation and weed and pest eradication and management, as well as the regional delivery of better practices that will protect our natural resources for food production for future generations,” Minister Ludwig said. 

Today's announcement follows a review of the first phase of Caring for our Country, which found the program is on track to exceed its five-year outcomes in nearly all national priority areas.
 
The next five years of the program will draw on the findings of the review and the strengths and successes of the first phase, focus on activities that address emerging priorities in natural resource management and strengthen the focus on the marine environment.

“In addition to ensuring Caring for our Country funding continues, the Gillard Government has also recognised the complementary, yet separate, roles farming communities and environmentalists play in the success of the program,” Minister Burke said.

From July 2013, Caring for our Country will be delivered through two specific streams – one dedicated to sustainable environment, and the other to sustainable agriculture.

“Separate but complementary streams will allow focussed delivery of our priorities and ensure effective integration with the policies and programs in the Government’s broader sustainability agenda,” Minister Burke said.

Minister Ludwig said the change was a win for farmers and for the sustainability of farming land into the future.

“Separate streams will allow for greater emphasis on the role farming communities play in keeping our land productive, and the projects that are needed to support their efforts,” Minister Ludwig said.

“A stream dedicated to agriculture means our farmers and farming communities will directly benefit.”
 
Information on the broad framework for the next five years of Caring for our Country and areas for further consultation will shortly be available on the Caring for our Country website www.nrm.gov.au.

A second phase of consultation regarding the future direction of the program will take place over coming months.

 

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