Water, innovation and trade get the cash in federal budget
THE 2016- 2017 federal budget has included a number of measures for the agriculture industry, particularly relating to water and drought, infrastructure, innovation and trade, however the backpacker tax is still causing headaches for those in the horticulture sector.
The $2 billion toward concessional loans to establish the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility was welcomed by the agricultural industry.
Loan recipients will make interest only payments for the first five years and have a further 10 years to repay the principal and additional interest.
Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) president Peter Tuohey praised the government’s commitment to encouraging water infrastructure projects which will improve the water security and boost agricultural opportunities in Victoria as well as giving “full credit” to delivering the much-needed infrastructure projects.
“The VFF has campaigned for decades for freight rail upgrades as we are pleased to see this commitment locked into budget papers,” he said.
“We welcome the government’s commitment to as- sisting state governments in commencing investment in these projects.”
Free financial advice will be available to farmers in drought affected areas thanks to the $7.1 million to fund additional Rural Financial Counsellors.
Up to $593.7 million in additional equity to the Australian Rail Track Corporation for land acquisition and pre-construction works has been provided to the inland rail project.
The Australian Grape and Wine Authority has been given $50 million to promote wine tourism and Australian wine overseas and a reduction in the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) rebate cap from $500,000 to $350,000 has also been a win for those in the wine industry.
A two-year pilot program to improve access for farmers to training and information about co-operatives collective bargaining and innovate business models has also been provided.
An extra $2 million annually from changes to agricultural levies has been given including a mandatory levy of 50 cents per tonne on all hay and straw prepared for export (replacing a voluntary levy), an increase in the Emergency Plant Test Response Levy for growth of private plantation logs and in increase in the citrus levy by $1.50 per tonne.
However, there is widespread disappointment over the government’s failure to address the destructive backpacker tax and no additional funding to rid rural areas of telecommunications issues.
“We have campaigned for more funding to go towards the Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program, but we have been left frustrated by their failure to acknowledge the needs of rural constituents,” Mr Tuohey said.
“The feedback we received clearly showed people in rural areas face grossly inadequate mobile and broadband access compared to their metropolitan counterparts.”
The government’s plan to tax working holiday makers as non-residents at 32.5 per cent also drew criticism because of the importance to the Australian economy.
“Each year we see around 40,000 backpackers come to Australia, many of whom work on our farms, and while they’re here they contribute about $3.5 billion to the Australian economy,” Mr Tuohey said.
“We can’t afford to lose that labour or that revenue and we need a realistic solution to tackle the problem.”
He added that both issues will be hot topics for the upcoming Federal election.
According to the Cattle Council of Australia (CCA), the value that beef producers bring to the economy has not been recognised with the beef industry missing out in terms of infrastructure, however beef businesses will benefit from the 2.5 per cent reduction in the tax rate for small businesses.
CCA chief executive officer Jed Matz said that jobs and growth “did not appear to be as relevant” in the rural industries.
“The budget seems to have little in it for agriculture but even less focus directly on the beef industry,” he said.
“This is disappointing as investing in the beef industry is vital to building the agricultural boom to keep Australia’s economy moving forward as the mining industry falls away.”
While Mr Matz said the additional funding of $15.9 million to develop an advanced analytics capability aimed at better targeting the government’s biosecurity efforts has been welcomed, he said there was further clarification needed on what the investment really means due to the lack of detail provided.
He added that beef had missed out on the infrastructure front with producers crying out for greater connectivity.
“We are disappointed to see no additional allocations to mobile black spot programmes.
“Further, while improved market access has been delivered in recent years, there is still much work to be done, especially on technical trade barriers.
“Australian beef producers are turning more and more to export markets to remain viable and access is vital.
“It is unfortunate the government has failed to recognise the value behind these initiatives in this year’s budget,” Mr Matz said.
INCREASED LEVIES: An extra $2 million from changes to agricultural levies has been allocated in the budget including a mandatory levy of 50 cents per tonne on all hay and straw prepared for export.