Farmers and regional Australia have been labelled as winners in the 2017-18 Federal Budget.
Major funding for the Inland Rail and ongoing funding to the National Landcare Program are just some of the highlights for the agriculture sector.
However, despite calls by the National Farmers Federation to allocate funding to fix mobile black spots and the Data Drought, no new money has been put aside for those projects.
After close to 20 years of the idea of an Inland Rail being talked about, the 2017-18 Budget committed $8.4 billion to build the Inland Rail line from Melbourne to Brisbane. With work set to begin this year, at its peak the 1700km track is expected to support 16,000 jobs for regional Australia.
At the CropLife Agricultural Industry Federal Budget Breakfast in Canberra this morning Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce praised his Government’s vision for building the Inland Rail. “No other government was ever going to build the inland rail – we will”, were his words.
Mr Joyce referred to the Inland Rail as “the corridor of commerce” and is confident it will invigorate the regional cities of Albury/Wodonga, Dubbo and Toowoomba, and towns like Narrabri and Moree, as well as taking bulk produce off the road.
This is great news for Seftons and the work we are doing with Inland Rail. Seftons has been engaged to work on community engagement with Inland Rail and stakeholders from Parkes to Narromine and Narrabri to North Star.
Rail appeared to be the big winner in the budget overall, with a new $10 billion National Rail Program announced, aiming to improve passenger rail in cities and better connect them to regional areas. Out of this $10 billion, Victoria is set to get more than $1 billion, half of which will go to projects already set down for regional areas. Another $20 million has also been allocated to states and businesses who come up with new ideas for faster regional rail connections. More reliable rail services could give a real boost to regional economies.
A new authority, named the Regional Investment Corporation (RIC), will be established to deliver $4 billion worth of concessional loans. It is expected to bring national consistency for concessional loans. The RIC, which will begin operating from July next year, will manage $2 billion in farm business loans and $2 billion for water infrastructure projects.
Another major win for agriculture is $1.1 billion worth of funds to secure the future of the National Landcare Program for the next five years. Minister Joyce said: “Our farmers manage about 53 per cent of our landmass and with global demand for food and fibre set to double by 2050 it’s important that we keep Landcare front and centre to assist them to manage our natural resources”.
The Budget also allocated $472 million for the Regional Growth Fund, with $200 million of it for the Building Better Regions program, which helps to fund things like sports infrastructure and roads.
There was good news for small business in the Budget as well. The instant asset write-off scheme which was due to expire on July 1 has been extended for a further year. It means businesses (such as farms) with a turnover up to $10 million can claim $20,000 in assets. This allows farmers to invest in machinery or equipment they might not otherwise be able to afford.
Also on the winners list is the livestock export industry which will receive $8.3 billion over four years to implement its Livestock Global Assurance Program, or LGAP as it’s known.
As in every budget, health and education were of major focus.
Media is reporting rural doctors and patients will welcome the decision to unfreeze the Medicare rebate. The Government will also reverse its attempt to remove the bulk billing incentive for diagnostic imaging and pathology services. The Budget also includes $9 million to improve access to psychological services through telehealth in rural areas.
School education is also said to be a big winner from this year’s budget, with an extra $18.6 billion paid to schools over 10 years. This means there will be more funding per students for most schools.
As for university students, while $2 million will be cut from a student relocation scholarships program from January next year, the government said it will allow for better targeting of the assistance. $24 million will go to scholarships to encourage rural students to study science, technology, engineering and maths.
Overall, the feedback coming in so far from those in the agriculture and regional sectors is positive and it really does seem like agriculture is being considered as a significant pillar in the Australian economy.
Mr Joyce said during his budget breakfast speech this morning: “When we came to government the Gross Value of agricultural production was $48 billion it is now projected to go to $64 billion in the current financial year.”
Seftons is proud to be involved in the Agriculture sector and that it is seen as such a strong economic driver of the nation.