AFTER a whirlwind visit through country Australia in the past fortnight, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is upbeat about the rural economy.
Speaking in Horsham in country Victoria, Mr Abbott said better terms of trade for exporters due to the falling dollar, combined with other wins for agriculture such as the free trade agreements (FTAs) with crucial northern Asian markets, meant there was a mood of optimism in the bush.
“I think there is quite a lot more confidence in country Australia today than there was just a couple of years ago,” he said.
“I know there are some places which are still badly affected by drought, particularly northern New South Wales and western Queensland, but where the seasons are okay, I think rural Australia is pretty optimistic.”
He nominated recently negotiated FTAs with China, Korea and Japan as critical wins for the ag sector.
“Our beef, our lamb, our dairy, our seafood, our wines, are all going to get into places like China, Korea and Japan under much better circumstances in the future than in the recent past.”
Mr Abbott also said the financial climate was favourable for farmers.
“We’ve got low and stable interest rates, a much more competitive dollar, lower fuel prices as well as lower power prices: all of these things are helping to boost confidence in country Australia.”
He also said the government’s new agricultural foreign investment register and the lowering of the threshold for scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) would be a good thing for rural Australia.
“Foreign investment is a good thing, but it's got to be foreign investment that serves our national interest and not just the interests of the investor and that's why the government recently moved to lower the screening threshold for foreign investment in agricultural land.
“I think this is very important, not to stop foreign investment particularly, but to give people confidence that the foreign investment in our country is in our national interests, as well as in the national interests of overseas investors.
On the vexed topic of drought assistance policy, Mr Abbott said the government would wait until the findings of the current white paper on agriculture were released before further advancing drought policy ideas.
Mr Abbott was in Horsham, together with local Member for Mallee Andrew Broad, to announce a federal government grant of $1 million for the Wimmera Healthcare Group for a new cancer treatment facility to match funds raised by the local community.
State Member for Lowan Emma Kealy called for the State Labor government to also commit to the project.
Mr Abbott’s visit was the first time a sitting Prime Minister had visited Horsham since Malcolm Fraser was there in 1983.