NONE of the major political parties have received an above average rating on the National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF) 2016 federal election policy scorecard, indicating there’s plenty of improvement needed by whoever wins government.
When the election campaign period started, the NFF launched its Accelerate Agriculture platform, pledging to highlight major election policies and release an interim and final rating on each of the three main party’s core commitments.
The NFF’s rating system assessed agricultural policy announcements against five measurement areas with a “handbrake” awarded for one or two stars, “cruise control” for three and “turbo-charged” for four or five.
In the final scorecard released today, none of the major parties scored four or five stars for any of the categories; building a stronger workforce; supercharging farm business; investing in innovation and technology; leading the global marketplace; and balancing farming and the environment.
The Coalition scored three out of five stars in each segment gaining 15 stars in total which was the same number awarded to Labor (eight) and the Greens (seven) combined, after each party was invited to formally respond to the NFF formally, to assist final ratings.
The NFF said inadequacies existed in the telecommunications and transport infrastructure policies of both the major parties while ongoing and serious concern surrounded the backpacker tax, heading into Saturday’s poll.
NFF President Brent Finlay said some promising announcements had been made by the Coalition on mobile blackspots, water infrastructure and streamlined administration of farm loans, and by Labor in matching funding for mobile blackspots, new innovation hubs and a re-commitment to the Cooperative Research Centre model.
But he said rural Australia remained seriously concerned about telecommunications and digital connectivity, the construction of the $10 billion Inland Rail project from Melbourne to Brisbane and the looming backpacker tax.
“These are areas we know require bipartisan agreement on the policy settings and the long term investment to underscore permanent solutions that will lead to wide-reaching and significant increases in production efficiencies and to the sector’s ability to deliver substantial benefits to rural and regional communities and the economy,” he said.
Mr Finlay said it was concerning that the policy areas which scored poorly this year were also areas where the major parties rated “weakly” on the NFF’s 2013 election scorecard.
“Throughout this very long election campaign we have consistently sought to communicate just how great the opportunities for Australian agriculture are in the global marketplace and what this could mean, not only for the industry itself, but for all of Australia as it seeks to fill the gap left by the declining resources industry,” he said.
“We have outlined five key priority areas, with associated key policy and investment asks, that we know are required to help agriculture live up to its potential.
“On issues where there are key shortfalls, we will be encouraging the government, whomever that may be after Saturday, to take a closer look with a view to developing long term, strategic and sustainable agricultural policy.
“Whatever the outcome of this election, the NFF stands ready to work with government to provide advice and input at this time of unprecedented opportunity for the sector when it must be treated as a national economic and policy priority.”
NFF said the Greens has said clearly the 32.5 per cent backpacker tax increase – introduced by the Coalition in last year’s budget - should be scrapped which was a key election priority, for the farm lobby.
But the Greens were marked down as a “handbrake” scoring just one star for ‘building a stronger workforce’, with NFF saying legislating penalty rates would “increase pressure on farm gate margins, limiting scope to tailor employment conditions to the workplace and setting the agriculture sector on a path to higher wage costs”.
On the same category, the ALP was awarded no stars with the NFF saying the Opposition had criticised the Coalition’s handling of the backpacker tax issue “but has not said it would scrap the tax if elected”.
“Furthermore, in the absence of a commitment to delay the tax from the ALP, the backpacker tax will start from July 1, if the ALP is elected, triggering a mass exodus of agricultural workers,” the NFF said.
“The ALP has promised a review of backpacker visas within 100 days of forming government, aiming to restore the ‘cultural exchange’ nature of the program (but) securing Australia’s agricultural workforce is unlikely to be a priority in the review.”
NFF said the ALP’s promise to restore ‘safe rates’ was cause for concern, after the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) caused agricultural transport costs to “skyrocket”.
The lobby group also said the Coalition had refused to compromise on the backpacker tax only announcing a six-month delay and wide-ranging review in the second half of 2016.
But the NFF said the federal Coalition government consigning the RSRT to history was a vital economic reform, while implementing recommendations of the Trade Union Royal Commission would help “clean-up workplaces where dodgy deals are done and workplace laws abused”.
On supercharging farm business, the NFF said the Green’s animal welfare policies, including wanting an end to the live animal export trade, would have “disastrous consequences” for the agriculture sector.
For the ALP, which was awarded two stars on that category, the NFF said Australian farmers don’t support the Opposition’s proposed Independent Office of Animal Welfare, “which would place cumbersome red tape on the industry and deliver no real improvements to livestock wellbeing”.
For the Coalition, the NFF said the continued roll out of Agriculture White Paper initiatives was positive but it remained “highly concerned” by the government’s announcement to relocate the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale.
However, NFF said it welcomed the Coalition’s plans to streamline the administration of drought support from a single body, but more detail was required to ensure an efficient and effective transition to the new arrangements.