White Paper welcomed
But govt. can still do more
Australia’s agricultural and food sector has been given a $4 billion boost following the unveiling of the Federal Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.
Released by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce in Woolthorpe, near Warrnambool, the White Paper contains a host of initiatives aimed to boost the profitability and competitiveness of the Australian farm sector.
It includes lowering farm taxes, an agriculture watchdog, $500 million in water infrastructure funding, $250 million a year in drought loans, $100 million in research and development funding, plus biosecurity and premium market access funding.
Overall, the $4 billion plan aims to build a competitive business environment for farmers and set out major changes to Farm Management Deposits, allowing farmers to use FMDs to offset loans which reduces interest bills by up to $150 million.
The money will also invest in rural infrastructure, drought preparedness and research and development funding.
Although Southern Riverina Irrigators chair John Bradford welcomed the White Paper, he believes the Federal Government needs to do more to secure Australia’s farming industry into the future.
‘‘It doesn’t really affect us here. White Papers don’t grow food — water and rain grow food,’’ Mr Bradford said.
‘‘However, it’s great they’ve released this White Paper as it says to me that the current Abbott Government is starting to realise that we’ve got an obligation to feed the world.
‘‘Just look at the way foreign investors are buying our farm land — other countries are recognising that we’ve got clean, fertile land and we need to be aware of that.’’
Mr Bradford referred to Prime Minister Abbott’s statement upon unveiling the White Paper which recognised the ‘‘the world is hungry, literally and metaphorically’’ for the high quality food that Australia is producing.
‘‘Mr Abbott said we don’t have a water problem, but rather we have a water management problem, and that’s something I fully agree with,’’ he said.
Many could argue against the fact that of the new initiatives in the $4 billion budget, up to $245 million of those initiatives were already released in the May Federal Budget.
This includes $160 million of funding for mobile phone black spot programs and $35 million in funding infrastructure projects to help drought-hit communities.
Despite this, National Farmers’ Federation president Brent Finlay said the White Paper — which was a central Coalition election commitment — will likely create a stronger business environment for farmers and generate better returns at the farm gate.
‘‘After almost two years, and more than 700 submissions, we finally have a clear commitment from government to foster a stronger, more prosperous and vibrant agriculture sector,’’ Mr Finlay said.
‘‘With measures totalling more than $4 billion, the White Paper seeks to balance tangible on-farm initiatives with long term sustainability.
‘‘The White Paper (will help) create the environment for agriculture to reach its full potential.’’