14 May 2014
The Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce acknowledges the Federal Government will lose some friends in rural Australia because of the Budget.
But he says hard decisions had to be made.
The Budget boosts regional road funding, retails tax concessions for off-road diesel and small winemakers, and rejects Commission of Audit recommendations to cut rural financial counselling and some research programs.
But it cuts Landcare by nearly half a billion dollars, and hacks off 20 per cent of funding for Co-operative Research Centres.
Mr Joyce says the Green Army will take up plenty of Landcare work.
“We’ll be making sure that the final position of what we do in delivery of an environmental outcome on farm is actually that you’ve got a greater appropriation of money to it than we had before, and that’s because the Green Army funds come into play.
“Now I admit that Landcare, in its current form, has had a cut. There’s no doubt about that.”
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has attacked the research and Landcare cuts, but says the increase in fuel prices could be the biggest broken promise of all.
“The big picture on this Budget, I think, is the fact fact that these reductions in payments, whether they be family payments, pensions, etc, combined with cost of living increase like Medicare and petrol, will fall disproportionately on people who live in rural and regional communities.”
Truckies applaud extra road funding
The freight industry is welcoming money to fix regional roads.
Truckies won’t be affected by rises in fuel excise, because they can claim it back as a tax credit.
Stuart St Clair, of the Australian Trucking Association, says money for Queensland’s Bruce Highway and duplicating the Pacific Highway is much needed.
“The money is not only going into the cities, it’s also going to be spent in regional and rural Australia and we are very, very pleased to see that the Roads to Recovery program, which has been highly successful in regional and rural areas, and remote areas of Australia will continue on. That is good news.”
Worries about research centres
Former National Farmers Federation president David Crombie is urging the government to keep an election promise to establish a northern agriculture co-operative research centre.
Funding for the next round of new CRCs will be scrapped, with $80 million of funding lost over four years.
Mr Crombie says development in northern Australia will suffer if the centre doesn’t go ahead.
“This is too important to let go. Commitments have been made and I think quite frankly, people in northern Australia are sick and tired of promises being made and not delivered.”
The CSIRO Staff Association says it’s deeply concerned by the Federal Government’s decision to axe millions of dollars worth of climate research funding.
The Australian Climate Change Science Program has been dissolved and merged into a new National Environmental Science scheme, with a cut of more than $21 million.
In total, the CSIRO will lose $116 million over the next four years and 500 staff will lose their jobs.
Acting secretary of the staff association, Dr Michael Borgas, says climate research will become diluted, and employees are finding the uncertainty ‘crippling’.
“If we reduce that amount of knowledge, many resource management issues and agricultural management issues are going to be very difficult.
“So the Staff Association is very critical of reductions of the amount of knowledge generated in that space for what we would say is largely political reasons.”
Ethanol industry finds it harder to compete
The ethanol and biodiesel industries face grant cuts worth millions of dollars.
The Ethanol Production Grants program will be scrapped from July 2015, saving the government $120 million.
The Dalby Biorefinery, in Queensland, is Australia’s only grain biofuel producer.
Agforce grains president Wayne Newton says the plant helps support the grain market and the cuts will make it harder to compete with large oil companies.
“We’re quite disappointed the ability to actually run as a profitable plant is quite reliant on the excise concessions that they have been receiving from government.”
Mining industry fears Senate blockage
The mining industry welcomes a number of Budget measures, but questions whether the Federal Government can implement them.
An exploration development incentive will give tax breaks to investors bankrolling drilling programs.
Regional infrastructure projects will help the industry expand, especially in Queensland’s Surat basin.
And for the first time, people studying a trade will be able to get HECS-style concessional loans.
But Simon Bennison, from the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, says these measures have to run the gauntlet of the political process.
“We’re not taking any of it as a given.
“We’re still trying to get the carbon tax and the mining tax repealed, so a lot hinges on some serious changes going through the Senate.
“And time will tell how the crossbenchers are going to respond to these various aspects of the Budget.”
The Minerals Council of Australia has also welcomed the budget and CEO Brendan Pearson says measures introduced spread the fiscal burden.
“We’ve got $3.7 billion in new tax charges which will primarily hit the mining sector.
“There’s also the paid parental leave levy that the mining industry will pay about a third of.
“Also some changes that the government has adopted from the previous government will be in the Budget for the first time.
“They relate to the deductibility of spending on mining rights, as well thin capitalisation and R&D changes.
“The bottom line is we are making a contribution to this debt reduction effort over the next four years on top of $21 billion we pay in corporate tax and royalties at the moment.”
Rural health groups unhappy
Dr Ewen McPhee, from Medicare Local at Emerald in Central Queensland, says introducing a Medicare co-payment isn’t the way to fix the problems in rural health.
“There was such a great opportunity here to really look at where the costs were and where potential savings could be made in the health system.
“And that’s been a squandered opportunity and all we’ve done is really tried to stop people at the front door, and there’s so much evidence that that’s not an ideal policy position to take as far as improving the health of the people.”
And the National Centre for Farmer Health is at risk of closing after missing out on federal funds.
The centre at Hamilton in western Victoria had hoped for half a million dollars in the budget.
Chief executive Jim Fletcher says the centre will be gradually wound up by 2015 if it can’t find immediate funding.
“Whilst it’s a major setback in terms of there being no funding in the Budget, we will continue to fight on.
“We’ve probably got four weeks, up to the end of June or close to the end of June to try to get an outcome.
“After that the sustainable farm families program will cease.”
Wine industry relieved
The winemaking industry says it’s happy to have escaped the budget scalpel, with no cuts to a tax rebate.
The ‘WET’ tax allows small and medium wineries to claim a rebate back on an extra tax winemakers have to pay.
Paul Evans, from the Winemakers Federation of Australia, says he’s glad it hasn’t been touched.
“There were a couple of risks last night – one, the WET rate, which is currently 29 per cent, may have been increased, and there was also the risk that the rebate may have been scrapped altogether.
“We’ve been advocating on this matter for some time, and have been highlighting to the government that while the industry continues to face considerable headwinds, the last thing we need is an increase in taxation.”
Courtesy of ABC Rural
14 May 2014