The Rural Life


MELISSA MALLET: The Federal Budget backlash continues today with the Opposition saying there was nothing in it for Agriculture; they’re set to deliver their Budget reply tonight.  The Labor Party say there was no vision to build sustainable and competitive farming industries with cuts to rural industries research and development corporations.  Shadow Ag Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has spoken to Regional Life reporter Courtney Dunne about the hits and misses.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE:  Well nothing in it for Agriculture, no real bad news, although job cuts in the Department will have an adverse effect.  There is extra money for research and development in one hand but on the other side of the equation money is being taken away.  But it is a bad budget for those who live in rural and regional Australia all these income cuts and all these cost of living rises will impact largely and disproportionately in rural and regional Australia.

COURTNEY DUNNE:  And what kind of impact will those cuts to research and development sectors…what kind of impact will that have on regional Australia?

FITZGIBBON:  We should all be working together to realise the opportunities presented by the ‘Dining Boom’ -this huge demand for food in Asia.  And to be competitive and to meet those expectations we will need lots of research and development.  The government is cutting in areas particularly relevant to that cause.  The tax increases in the Budget and the cost of living rises of course always fall disproportionately on people who live outside of our capital cities.

DUNNE:  And what are your thoughts on the indexation of the fuel excise?

FITZGIBBON: Well the fuel excise increases are a clear broken election promise.  There is no ‘budget emergency’ this is something confected to justify broken election promises.  And of course we know that fuel excise increases fall more heavily on people living outside of our capital cities because of the transport costs which factor into those petrol price rises.  This will particularly hurt people in the regions.

DUNNE: And were you pleased to see that the off-road diesel rebate wasn’t axed?

FITZGIBBON: I don’t believe the diesel fuel rebate was ever under threat. I think that was a ruse put out there so that people in rural and regional Australia could breathe a sigh of relief on Budget Night.  And the Government’s hope would have been that they would take less notice of all of the nasties which are going affect regional Australia more than it will our city cousins.

DUNNE:  And do you think the Government committed enough in terms of drought relief funding?

FITZGIBBON: Well, drought relief funding has been a real disappointment.  We offered bi-partisan support.  The Prime Minister went on his well published ‘Drought Tour’- had his vision and pictures taken - made a big announcement in February.  And here we are two and a half months on, and as I understand it, not one cent has gone to struggling farmers who were delighted to see that announcement made so long ago.

DUNNE: And how much impact will the commitment to roads and infrastructure have on the Agriculture industry?

FITZGIBBON: Well we don’t know what additional commitment there is on roads.  I’m concerned there is a sleight of hand here.  The Government is trying to justify its petrol tax increases by saying the additional money will be spent on roads.  Well I say we shall wait and see.

DUNNE: And do you think enough is being done to make Agriculture competitive and more productive overall?

FITZGIBBON: Well one of the great disappointments in the Budget was further cuts to Landcare.  I believe one of the greatest challenges facing Agriculture is natural resource sustainability and this Government is taking us backwards.  We need to lift productivity if we are to take advantage of the opportunities in Asia and winding back productivity is a big mistake.

DUNNE: And with those cuts to Landcare there is the introduction of a Green Army.  Can you explain what the Government is going for there?

FITZGIBBON: Well I can’t explain how the Green Army in any way offsets the Landcare cuts because the Government hasn’t been able to explain that either.  So we shall wait and see.  But I think the people best placed to manage as custodians of the land, the land that they farm, are the people on the land and the winding back of Landcare I think is a very big mistake.

DUNNE: Are there any other concerns coming out of the Budget for you?

FITZGIBBON: I think overall, all these additional charges and cuts will fall disproportionately on people living in rural and regional Australia.  Particularly the petrol price hikes.  And that leaves people like me very very disappointed in a Budget which has many cuts that were not necessary because the reality is Australia has an economy that is the envy of the rest of the world.

Mallett:  Shadow Ag Minister Joel Fitzgibbon there.


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