THIS year’s federal budget must commit resources towards ensuring policy recommendations in the government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper are implemented successfully, according to the National Farmers Federation (NFF).
The NFF’s submission to the 2015-16 federal budget process has highlighted 10 key priority areas, ranging from boosting agricultural competitiveness through to maintaining the Fuel Tax Credits Scheme for agriculture’s benefit.
Enhancing market access opportunities from the recently signed free trade agreements (FTA) with Korea, Japan and China, and any other new markets, is another key budget request.
The white paper was an election promise from the federal government but has not yet been tabled, despite a green paper being released last October.
Last month, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the white paper was in the process of being finalised but its release was being delayed to ensure the final product gave the nation confidence in agriculture’s big future.
NFF’s budget submission said the white paper “must deliver a clear and tangible plan for farmers and agribusinesses”.
“It must be a plan that delivers action and outcomes; not more talk and delays,” the submission said.
“This is the opportunity to establish a new and enduring approach to the next golden age of the Australian agricultural sector.”
On trade, NFF called for investigation and implementation of effective and appropriate partnerships between industry and government to drive outcomes in trade negotiations, including $250,000 to promote and co-ordinate Team Australian Agriculture.
The peak farm group has also called for an increase in the number of agriculture counsellors in key markets to report on and prioritise technical barriers to trade, resulting in increased trade of Australian products.
Reinforcing ag priorities
NFF president Brent Finlay said his group’s 2015-16 budget submission had been lodged with the Coalition government for consideration ahead of the final scheduled budget announcement on May 12 in Canberra.
Mr Finlay said NFF had lobbied for its budget submission over the past month and would continue that process in coming weeks, to reinforce the farm sector’s priorities.
He said the NFF wanted to see resources allocated to ensure improved market access for farm products in the China, Korea and Japan FTA’s are “bedded down”.
The farm lobby group is also concerned about a potential drop-off in agricultural research and development (R&D) funding through potential changes to the agricultural levy system, which is currently subject to a federal Senate inquiry, he said.
The NFF’s budget submission seeks the government’s ongoing commitment to the “broad architecture” of the Rural Research and Development Corporation (RDC) model, including the government contribution matching industry levies”.
It also calls for a commitment to building on the existing model, work on developing an attractive investment environment for innovative public-private partnership investments by providing investment and tax incentives, enabling regulatory settings, intellectual property protection and access to technologies.
Backing levy system
Mr Finlay said scrutiny of the levy system was welcomed but its ability to fund vital research projects “is what sets Australian agriculture aside from the rest of the world”.
“Not every R&D project is a success but we have to continue to invest because that’s our edge,” he said.
The NFF submission also outlined priorities for climate policy, water and natural resource management, people in agriculture (workforce), energy efficiency and costs, infrastructure and refining drought policy.
NFF policy request list
On climate policy, the NFF has asked the government to commitment to maintain core funding to the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) to continue to improve forecasting capabilities.
They also requested a continuation of funding for the next phase of R&D into mitigation and abatement opportunities that improve the emissions intensity of the agriculture sector.
Another key demand is for the provision of adequate resources for in-drought support measures and further development of an adequate long-term drought policy framework.
Mr Finlay said he hadn’t heard any speculation about whether the diesel fuel rebate was under consideration to be cut in this year’s budget, “but we’re ready to go”.
“It’s one of those issues which can distract people from what we should all be doing and that’s focussing on the opportunities ahead for agriculture,” he said.
“We want good government - we don’t want games - and that’s why we want bipartisanship in agriculture.
“We’re a long-term business and we have to make long-term decisions every day at all levels and that’s why we want certainty and we want certainty around policy.
“Sure we understand the fiscal situation in this country at the moment but agriculture is one of the economy’s bright spots,” he said.
“I’m worried that some of these distractions may stop us from seizing on the opportunities we have right now to invest properly in agriculture and build strong business relationships in these export markets, to provide high quality food and fibre to the rest of the world.
“I said very publicly last year a number of times, if Australian agriculture is exporting 90 per cent of what we produce in future, Australian agriculture will be travelling very well and that’s what we have to aim for.”
Fuel tax rebate critical
NFF’s submission said ensuring that farmers are reimbursed for road funding taxes when they use their machinery off-road, “helps the Australian agricultural sector to maintain a level of competitiveness in the global market”.
“NFF understands that in a tight fiscal environment governments will look to review and make savings where possible,” it said.
“However, the fuel tax rebate is a critical measure with strong and united support from the Australian farming sector.
“Farmers do not need an unnecessary tax.
“They already operate without subsidies in a highly distorted international marketplace.”
Other NFF federal budget priorities for 2015-16:
Dedicated resources provided to the Department of the Environment to facilitate the strategic communication of the agricultural sector’s regulatory responsibilities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
Dedicated resources assigned to the Department of the Environment to develop the information, tools and resources that can assist farmers in verifying the information provided to them by aggregators under the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).
Funding of $60,000 for research to underpin the development of a new Best Practice Standard for Employment in Agriculture.
Investigation into specific electricity tariffs designed to suit the energy demands of industries in the agricultural sector.
Development of a priority list of infrastructure needs for the agricultural sector to ensure it receives attention in the infrastructure investment pipeline.