Billions of dollars will be allocated to natural disaster response as part of the 2019-20 Budget, and farmers can expect a boost to drought support and foreign market access — but there will be no agriculture visa — if the Coalition is returned to Government.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg used his pre-election Budget to announce a $3.9 billion Emergency Response Fund.
Mr Frydenberg said the fund would “ensure additional resourcing is available to support future natural disaster recovery efforts”.
The Coalition expects to establish the fund in October by rebadging the dormant, Rudd-era, Education Investment Fund.
New legislation is required to determine how and when the funds can be accessed.
The 2019–20 Budget has also committed $29.4 million over four years to enhance Australia’s agricultural exports.
The package includes money to increase market access, improve access to plant genetics for the horticulture sector and more than $11 million to minimise the impact of non-tariff trade barriers.
The Government has also expanded access to an instant asset write-off, increasing the limit from $25,000 to $35,000.
It means any business with an annual turnover of up to $50 million will be eligible.
Despite senior Nationals ministers giving their support for an agriculture-specific visa last year, there was no funding for it in this year’s Budget.
Farmers have long argued Australian produce is going unharvested due to a lack of on-farm workers, and some say it has led to an increase of illegal farm workers.
However, the Government announced a 12-month pilot that it said would address seasonal worker shortages in three selected regions, known for farm worker shortages.
It also committed $24 million to incentivise Australians to take up seasonal work opportunities, by expanding the existing Harvest Labour Service and committed $1.9 million, over four years, to develop a National Agriculture Workforce Strategy.
It follows recent announcements about changes to expand regional skilled and backpacker visas.
The National Farmers’ Federation call for a comprehensive national drought policy has been ignored in this year’s Budget.
However, the Government has committed more than $3 million to increase access to the Farm Household Allowance.
The changes mean, from July 1, farmers who put the income from the forced sale of livestock into a Farm Management Deposit, will have the proceeds exempt from an income means test to access the assistance.
Currently there are fewer than 6,300, of more than 85,000 Australian farming families, who access the fortnightly Farm Household Allowance payments.
The 2019-20 budget also includes a $5 million grant for the Country Women’s Association to help farmers and families that experience hardship due to drought, and $4.2 million to maintain a National Drought Map.
The Bureau of Meteorology will benefit from $28 million over four years to install new radars and rain gauges in Queensland.
Earlier this year, the Government legislated a $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund, funded off-budget, to set aside $100 million a year for drought-preparedness.
Labor has also committed to spend $100 million a year on drought, if elected.
One of the largest agriculture-specific spends of 2019-20 budget is a $30 million pilot program to recognise and incentivise biodiversity on farms.
A methodology is yet to be determined.
The Government has also committed $4 million to a biodiversity certificate scheme, which would seek to establish a market for biodiversity credits.
The commitment has generally been welcomed by farmers and has in-principle support from the Opposition.
This year’s Budget, for the first time, outlines spending for the already-announced mandatory dairy industry code of conduct.
The Government will spend $8.7 million over 11 years on the code, which is designed to address an imbalance of power between farmers and processors.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is expected to enforce the code, which is currently being established with input from the industry, and will come into effect on July 1, 2020.
A contentious new Biosecurity Imports Levy, initially expected to be charged on shipping containers, has been delayed by three months.
The levy, announced in last year’s budget, was expected to commence on July 1, but this year’s Budget shows the start date has been extended until September.
The delay, which the Government will use to consult further on the design of the levy, is expected to cut revenue by $20 million.
An increase in biosecurity funding had strong support from farmers, but transport, logistics and shipping companies have called for the levy to be axed.
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