Farmers wary of $300m carrot

31 Jan, 2013 01:00 AM
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The Nationals' agriculture policy... has failed to hit the voter target.

THE jury is still out over the Nationals WA's latest $300 million political carrot.

The Nationals, who have long been the rural voice in WA, dangled the agriculture carrot in front of their once unified supporters, but it seems this time farmers are not taking the bait.

Many farmers are still hurting, on the back of three tough seasons, with a ripple effect in many agribusinesses and local towns.

The Nationals' agriculture policy, called Seizing the opportunity (over the next five years) has failed to hit the voter target.

A number of farmers have told Farm Weekly the Nationals are out of touch with the issues facing regional areas, particularly Tier 3 rail, Multi-Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) and Muresk College.

All of these issues have been on the table for some time, which reflects the growing annoyance of farmers at the lack of government action.

Tier 3 rail was arguably the biggest talking point from last week's Nationals' announcement, particularly as the $300m policy didn't include any firm investment into the rail line - despite a Labor Government commitment of $30m over three years.

The closest the National party got to funding rail was the $75m Infrastructure Investment Fund, which Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman said on radio could "potentially" go into Tier 3 rail.

But that $75m investment, as Jane Fuchsbichler from the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRRA) said, had to include port and road facilities as well.

"No they haven't given us anything as far as I am concerned," Ms Fuchsbichler said.

"It (the announcement) felt like a mirage to me and I was not convinced.

"But one is not going to be convinced when we had a solid promise at the last election that didn't happen.

"Why would you believe a wishy washy one now?"

Ms Fuchsbichler was referring to a previous election promise in 2008 by Nationals leader Brendon Grylls, who was reported as saying the state component of the rail rescue package should be funded through its Royalties for Regions policy.

Ms Fuchsbichler said they had not received any commitment from the Nationals.

She said the Labor Party had set a benchmark in how much money was required for Tier 3.

It is another election blow for the Nationals in the Wheatbelt, traditionally the heartland for the party.

The party has failed to come to grips with the Tier 3 issue and they have lost former leader Max Trenorden and party member Philip Gardiner over the issue.

Support is believed to be building for seat of Central Wheatbelt Liberal candidate Stephen Strange, who has voiced his support for Tier 3.

"If Mr Redman and the National Party were serious about helping the Wheatbelt, the very first thing they could do which would reduce our bottom line would be to reduce freight costs," Ms Fuchsbichler said.

"We also know that road freight will only get dearer because of the diesel costs, the carbon tax and all our roads are going to get smashed to pieces, so if they were seriously concerned about helping Wheatbelt farmers, fix Tier 3 rail and get our freight costs down instantly.

"Money into Tier 3 rail is almost an instant fix and almost a lifting of depression in the area."

She said there was no guarantee the $75m would not be spent in the Pilbara, the seat which Mr Grylls hopes to win on March 9.

In the policy there was also no mention of MPCI, something which has slowly moved back to the forefront of farmers' minds following the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Muresk was in the policy and received $10m over five years, but Muresk Old Collegians Association (MOCA) president John Hassell said that would barely cover the cost of yearly maintenance.

Nationals' leader Brendon Grylls said Tier 3 was not left out of the agriculture policy and that a business case for the lines still needed to be presented.

"If you ask the WRRA to hand you the business case for Tier 3, you would expect with all the commentary on this, you would expect them to have a business case that was capable for funding, you would expect they would be able to hand it to you (but they can't)," Mr Grylls said.

"All I have asked from the WRRA and CBH is to come up with the new plan which is business case, able and bankable.

"...we have been asking for it for a long long time and if the players were honest they would tell you that they can't provide it.

"And it is for that reason that it hasn't had a chance to be funded because there is nothing to fund, because there is no plan that has been put.

"Our policy actually develops a plan with an independent person coming in looking at all the models and presenting a bankable case to government for future investment into the rail network."

Mr Grylls said it was a similar case for MPCI, saying a commercial financial model needed to be found before it could be introduced.

"I am disappointed that some of your commentators have criticised us because as Mr Redman has always said, we would like to see a commercial instrument around MPCI," he said.

"The reason that the commercial instrument hasn't eventuated is because the reinsurers want the desktop data that allows them to build a financial model around that.

"Remember that CBH offered a MPCI, did a trial and then withdrew it and so the history of the MPCI is that when it was offered it wasn't actually taken up.

"So what we have offered in this policy is yield-mapping sites, the weather stations and alike to actually build that data base of information so that the insurance companies have the information and the tools at hand to be able to offer a commercial product if it is demanded by the growers."

Mr Grylls said he was excited by the Nationals' $300m announcement and the growth potential in WA agriculture.

Shadow Treasurer Ben Wyatt called on Premier Colin Barnett to endorse the Nationals' commitment to spend $300 million on its agriculture policy.

Mr Wyatt said the only way Western Australians could have any confidence that this commitment would actually be delivered, is if Mr Barnett endorsed this commitment and it was included as part of the Liberal Party election costings.

"Again we see the Nationals campaigning as though they are in Opposition, committing to projects and programs it failed to deliver in government," Mr Wyatt said.

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READER COMMENTS

x
31/01/2013 4:33:55 AM, on Farm Weekly

As stated the Nats are out of touch on above issues and more-Land clearing Regs, Right to Farm Legislation, Milk industry , The fundamental Central Eastern Wheatbelt profitability and social disaster currently unfolding, Foriegn ownership concerns. Demise of the Ag Dept and more Its obvious the Nats are not representing the grass roots of the Bush
shaun
2/02/2013 4:22:00 PM, on Farm Weekly

the nats have lost the plot,I thought nats were the voice of the bush. When mr grylls meets with troubled producers and tells them to sell there land so someone else can produce on it there is somthing wrong. then Terry Redman tells us agriculture needs over seas investment when producers are struggling. Somthing is seriously wrong with there aproach.Nobody seems to back up the poor old producer these days.

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