Agriculture and the budget: Same old tricks

The Morrison Government has used the 2019-20 Budget to pretend it has changed its view of the world. 

After six years of the Liberals and Nationals’ cuts and chaos, and just six weeks before an election, this budget was Scott Morrison’s last chance to reverse his cuts to the services that everyday Australians rely on.

The con extends into the agriculture portfolio, it has stuck with the same old tricks:  money stolen from other areas of regional investment, more concessional loans and big headlines about the capital value of those loans, most of which will never be allocated.

Farmers will know that these are hollow promises.

Drought affected farmers on the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) will also be shaking their heads as the Government makes yet another attempt to get the FHA right. The Government says it will spend  $3 million in 2018 -19 to exempt net income from the forced sale of livestock from the FHA payment assessment as long as the farmer puts the funds into a Farm Management Deposit. This will do nothing to put cash on the table when farmers need it most.

This measure hasn’t been legislated and we are only four months away from the end of the financial year and heading into an election.  According to the Budget papers the measure extends into 2019-20 but the Morrison Government has put only $100,000 on the table. The allocation of funding makes no sense at this point of the election cycle, unless the Morrison Government is seeking not to actually spend the majority of the funding.
Each and every time the Government tinkers with the FHA farmers have been left disappointed and this budget measure is just another example of an ill-thought-out policy.

After six years the Government has finally acknowledged workforce shortages are the agriculture industry’s biggest challenge but its response is vague at best. It appears its on-again, off-again promise of an “agriculture visa” is back off the table.

New programs to overcome non-tariff barriers to export markets are a belated admission that while Free Trade Agreements have been completed, market access to many countries remains elusive for many commodities.

The much anticipated Biosecurity Import Levy which was to provide needed additional funding for our critical biosecurity systems has been deferred until 1 September 2019 and this will hit the budget bottom line by $20 million.

The budget papers have also revealed the Morrison Government is cutting staffing by 217 positions and this will add further pressure to an already stretched department.

The fisheries and forestry industries will be left disappointed having being ignored again with no new funding for their sectors.

The fact is the Morrison Government is still without an overarching strategic plan for Australia’s agriculture sector.  We saw no fundamental or structural reform for agriculture in the 2019-20 Budget.

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