Ag spared slashing, but still no vision

John Cobb.
John Cobb.

SOME agricultural industry analysts would suggest the Shadow Federal Agriculture Minister John Cobb may have woken up on Wednesday morning with a bit of egg on his face after the Federal government’s budget announcement Tuesday night.

The government’s 2012-13 budget forecast announced some sensible measures for agriculture and avoided the type of pre-budget fiscal carnage and mayhem that had some sectors of the economy like agriculture, trembling in fear.

Funding for critical programs like Caring for our Country and creation of a new biosecurity facility, driven by recommendations from the Beale Review, albeit over seven years, ensured agriculture wasn’t smashed beyond recognition.

The final budget failed to accurately reflect the ferocious sentiment expressed by the Shadow Minister in the lead up to Tuesday’s announcement, where he predicted savage budget cuts would take place at the hands of the Treasurer’s rabid hatchet that would potentially cruel the agricultural industry and render the sector collateral damage in the Labor government’s rabid pursuit of a budget surplus, to achieve a desperately desired political win.

The end result was quite different than those words may have led observers to believe but that’s only just for the short term.

Overall it was still a mediocre effort at best and is nothing for the ALP to get too cocky about.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan produced a modest $1.5 billion surplus in the final budget papers and as the National Farmers Federation said, it extrapolated to an average return for the sector that had a couple of good wins.

An almost patronising result one would say; if you lived outside of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide or any other big city.

In reality, after cutting out the spin and hype and smashing some of the budget mirrors and clearing the smoke, the Labor budget lacked provision for the longer term.

It failed to carry forward the type of government backing needed to build ongoing confidence, with the smart investment in R&D and productivity gains that industry members would prefer to see take place over a modest surplus.

It really only gave Mr Swan an opportunity to chirp for a short time about the ALP’s clever financial management skills, while outside the party room the Thomson and Slipper affairs continue to dominate headlines.

Notably the Treasurer only mentioned agriculture once in the budget lock-up media conference, on Tuesday afternoon.

Even the words of Greens leader Christine Milne reflected a similar sentiment about a modest result for the short term that lacked any longer term vision for agriculture; in particular around investments to achieve productivity gains in a land and water constrained environment.

Other industry analysts relayed the same kind of thinking; that it was an average budget result that didn’t totally smash agriculture today and was “all about the surplus”.

However, the common theme was about the budget’s concerning lack of vision for tomorrow’s world with future food security underpinning most people’s strategic thinking.

And in this regard, Mr Cobb’s predictions remained as strong as ever Wednesday morning when he refused to concede that he’d been over the top with his pre-budget commentary.

Rather than having egg on his face, he was still dining out on the ALP’s inability to comprehend the rural sector’s machinations and lauded the future fate of an agricultural portfolio managed by a timid and at times misguided Minister in Joe Ludwig.

After all, the government’s lack of vision and foresight and broader understanding of the interconnectivity associated with rural issues and communities is one of Mr Cobb’s main talking points and that of other Nationals and rural Liberals who either farm themselves or actually live in the bush.

Mr Cobb may not express his views as clearly and as eloquently as others can in public and may come across like a bull in a china shop at times due to his frustration at what he sees taking place in the ALP camp in this term of government.

But there’s little doubt he clearly sees the death of thousand cuts taking place for his beloved farming sector and rural Australia – right before his eyes - and that frustration appears to be growing by the day.

One can imagine that, rather than dealing with the latest budget night, he’d have preferred to have been waking up after an election with a comprehensive democratic result delivered by the Australian people and to begin making some real and serious changes.

But he can just keep dreaming for now and hope reality doesn’t bite too hard for the sector in future.

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READER COMMENTS

Max
24/05/2012 5:45:52 AM

OH please the Nationals are only interested in pandering to big agricorps, the chemical industries and mining sectors, they have completely left family farmers and betray them at every turn. Where were they in when the previous government was in and they supposedly they had a chance at doing something? No where to be seen. They are a useless party now and should just rebadge them selves as city Liberals.
Canberra CommentFairfax Agricultural Media Canberra correspondent Colin Bettles tackles the big national rural and agricultural issues which will impact regional and rural Australians.

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