Mental health services, the push to grow the nation’s agriculture workforce and infrastructure spending are among the wins for rural and regional Australia from Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s third budget.
Seftons’ Managing Director Robbie Sefton said delivering a budget during the current pandemic crisis was always going to be a challenging task, but she was happy to see the focus remain on significant spending and funding commitments in order to maintain the nation’s economic recovery.
“The challenges we face as Australia continues to navigate its way out of the pandemic crisis are enormous, but times like these make it even more crucial to ensure we’re not leaving anyone behind in this recovery, and that includes rural and regional communities which haven’t always been at the forefront of budget priorities,” Robbie said.
“This budget though has delivered on a number of fronts for our regions and the agriculture industry, and while there’s always more that could be done, it has addressed some of the more pressing issues and lays a platform for additional funding and strategy initiatives into the future.”
Rural and regional health services, including support for mental health issues, has long been an issue, so there has been widespread praise for the allocation of more than $2 billion to mental health services, supporting intervention, suicide prevention and support services.
“As a member of the board of national youth mental health foundation Headspace, this was particularly satisfying. There is an urgent need in our communities for more services and assistance and I can only hope that regional Australia will see a significant share of this funding boost,” Robbie said.
More than $5 billion was delivered to freight and regional roads across every state and territory, much of which will directly benefit regional Australia, including an ongoing commitment to the Inland Rail project, and the government has set aside a further $250 million for regional community infrastructure projects under the Building Better Regions Fund.
There has long been a call for strategies aimed at growing agriculture’s workforce into the future with the likes of the National Farmers Federation flagging labour shortages as a pressing issue for the industry. Last night, almost $30 million was announced for new measures aimed at growing this ag-focused workforce long-term, among a raft of measures designed to create thousands more jobs across the nation and reducing our unemployment rate. More apprenticeships and traineeships, and incentives for employers to hire younger workers, is also among the strategies, and it’s hoped rural and regional businesses can reap the benefits.
Small businesses will continue to benefit too, from the extension of the very popular Instant Asset Write Off scheme to June 2023, which allows businesses to fully deduct the costs of depreciable purchases. The likes of farmers and ag machinery dealerships have benefitted tremendously under this scheme, a practical and tangible means of supporting those driving the agriculture industry specifically, and the nation’s economy as a whole.
Robbie also praised the $200 million for the National Soils Strategy, which in part will help incentivise farmers to increase soil testing, and improve the overall understanding of the nation’s soils, and will include rebates for farmers who share this kind of data. The Government’s new biodiversity stewardship program will also move from a pilot phase to wider implementation, rewarding farmers for increasing biodiversity on their land.
“I know how important this is for ongoing productivity in the ag sector, with the Soils CRC, of which I’m a board member, working tirelessly to give farmers the knowledge and tools they need to make decisions on extremely complex soil management issues. Soil is where it all begins and it’s pleasing to see the Government give it, and the farmers who are charged with the responsibility of managing our prime productive land, the recognition that’s deserved,” Robbie said.
“In line with improving sustainability and addressing climate change challenges into the future, a long overdue overhaul of the nation’s biosecurity infrastructure is also welcome. With all the funding, research and effort that’s going into growing our agriculture sector, it could all be for nothing should the likes of Foot and Mouth get into Australia. The strengthening of and ongoing improvements across our biosecurity framework and agencies is critical.”
At the Agricultural Industry Federal Budget Breakfast following budget night, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud paid tribute to the agriculture industry and regional communities for their resilience through drought, fires and floods in recent times, and their critical role in keeping the economy ticking over as COVID-19 wreaked havoc around the world.
“This [budget] was simply about doing the right thing by an industry that’s done the right thing by our nation,” he said.
“When the rest of the country was shut down, Australian agriculture kept on going. If it wasn’t for agriculture and for resources, our economy would be buggered. We’d have no recovery but we were kept out of recession because of agriculture and resources. Agriculture kept doing the job and kept the wheels turning, kept moving and making sure, despite fire, drought and flood. Despite the fact we thought it would be a $60 billion industry by June this year, we’re now revising that to $66b and that’s despite all we’ve faced.
“And now, with this investment we’re going to make, we’re projecting it’s going to get to $71 billion by next year and that’s a modest estimate. This return on investment is seen and it is real and it is tangible to the Australian economy, and that’s what we’re putting our money behind.”