By HARRY CLARKE
AGRICULTURE Minister Murray Watt declared that “a new era for Australian agriculture” had begun Tuesday night as Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivered the Albanese Government’s second Federal Budget, which establishes “for the very first hime in our nation’s history” a Sustainable Biosecurity Funding model.
An additional $1 billion biosecurity spend over the forward estimates (and $268 million ongoing annually) to protect the bush from threats such as exotic pests and disease forms the budget’s agriculture centrepiece.
Of that total, $845 million will be directed to policy, and operational and technical funding, to enable the department to cover increased biosecurity activity as post pandemic international travel continues to rebuild.
The Sustainable Biosecurity Funding model will be paid for in part by a $10 increase to the Passenger Movement Charge, a tax of currently $60 for every tourist or Australian resident leaving the country incorporated into airfares and collected by the Commonwealth.
Watt said another $350 million being collected by the Federal Government through increases to fees and charges on importers would mean they contribute “more fairly” to Australia’s biosecurity burden.
“We will also introduce a modest new biosecurity protection levy on agriculture, fisheries and forestry producers – creating a new system that will be more predictable, equitable, transparent and accountable than ever before,” he said.
The increase will be imposed on products from July 1 next year after a period of industry consultation.
While welcoming the fact that the new biosecurity scheme extended beyond the forward estimates for the first time, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) described the scheme as a “tax whack” for agriculturalists and a “surprise raid on farmers’ hip pockets” which dealt them “a bittersweet hand”.
“Farmers will face a bill equivalent to 10 percent of their industry-led agricultural levies – levies which already fund many biosecurity activities and organisations. Farmers are already a significant contributor to the system in recognition of the benefits it provides the sector,” the NFF stated.
NFF President Fiona Simson added: “The move to have farmers foot the bill is a bitter pill to swallow. We’re already significant financial contributors”.
“What’s more, we bear the cost of managing historical pest and disease incursions and face the enormous threats posed by pests and diseases on our doorstep,” she said.
“After years of consultation and discussion, we’d hoped to see a scheme such as a broad-based container levy that forced risk creators to underwrite the system.
“It’s extremely disappointing to have to continue waiting for a meaningful contribution from risk creators.”
Ross Paterson, RSM Australia‘s National Leader for Agribusiness (pictured) said farmers may be no better off from the biosecurity boost.
“The biosecurity boost is going to be offset in part by increased levies for producers/importers which is giving with one hand and taking with the other,” Paterson said.
“To say that it is only farmers/importers that benefit from biosecurity measures is disingenuous. An outbreak of foot and mouth, for example, would not only be devastating for our livestock producers but would also significantly impact our tourism industry (through potential domestic travel restrictions)”.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Caller, North Queensland MP Bob Katter slammed the government’s new trucker tax hike as “diabolical” for the bush.
The Albanese Government is increasing the Heavy Vehicle Road User Charge rate from 27.2 centre per litre over the coming financial year to 32.4 cents per litre in 2025-26.
The 6 percent increase will raise about $1.1 billion for the government and reduce its expenditure on the fuel tax credit, but it will have implications for farmers moving produce by road.
“That is diabolical for agriculture and diabolical for Mr and Mrs Housewife for food prices,” Katter said.
“When that food arrives at Woolworths and Coles they put their margins on it. That magnifies itself dramatically and it reflects itself in food prices.
“The budget will kick up the prices of food and it will kick down the price for farmers.”
Katter also criticised the absence of funding for North Queensland’s Hells Gate Dam, while Shadow Agriculture Minister, Maranoa MP and Nationals leader David Littleproud was similarly scathing of the government’s budget decision to scrap funding for the Emu Swamp Dam near Stanthorpe.
The previous Coalition Government had committed $126.5 million in the 2022-2023 budget towards the project – a 12GL dam on the Severn River near Stanthorpe as well as a 117-kilometre pipeline distribution network.
“During the most recent drought, which was the worst on record, communities across the Granite Belt had to rely on water being carted in from nearby areas because local water supplies had run dry,” Littleproud said.
“Over a period of 15 months, each day about 34 truckloads of water, or about 1.6 million litres of water per day, were carted into Stanthorpe to supply the community,” Littleproud said.
“As a result, $800,000 per month was spent transporting water into the community until the drought finally broke.
“The former Coalition Government’s Emu Swamp Dam project sought to ensure water security for future droughts, urban supply and for agriculture, all while saving taxpayer dollars, but this budget shows that Labor treats regional Australians as forgotten Australians.”
The NFF welcomed the National Heritage Trust’s $302 million over five years to support farmers’ transition to a low emissions and to strengthen sustainability, as well as the implementation of regional independent extension officers to help farmers better understand carbon market implications for their agricultural operations.
“This is a critical announcement that will help farmers understand and respond to climate change and access new environmental markets,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.
“NFF will seek to work with the Government on the design and implementation of this measure.
“We also welcome the restating of the measure that would support the introduction of legislation to treat carbon and biodiversity income as farm income.”
Budget allocations for the agricultural sector also include $38 million for the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) to improve the collection, analysis and sharing of data on the impact of climate change, a $127 million payment to bolster the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, $5 million to develop a renewed Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, $5.6m for an independent assessment of the phase-out of live sheep export and $20m for a National Soil Action Plan.
The instant asset write-off has been extended for another year and capped at investments worth up to $20,000.
There will be $370.8 million spent over 4 years to expand and improve the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, a temporary migration program to address unskilled, low-skilled and semi-skilled rural and regional labour shortages.