Agriculture and Water Resources: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18

The Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio contributes to the productivity, competitiveness and sustainability of regional Australia. The majority of Australia’s agricultural industries, worth an estimated $63.8 billion, are based in the regions and their employees, related businesses and suppliers underpin economic development in these areas.

In 2017–18 the Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio will continue its work to maintain agriculture as one of the five pillars of the Australian economy. This will be achieved through support for farm businesses, ensuring greater access to export markets for agricultural produce, improving net farm–gate returns and managing biosecurity and imported food risks. The portfolio will also continue to provide support for the important stewardship role played by farmers and regional communities over Australia’s natural resource base.

The Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio leads the Australian Government’s contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, under which the Australian Government is working towards providing responsible, long-term management of water for communities, the environment and farmers. The portfolio supports regional economies and the environment through large-scale investment to improve returns to irrigators and the community, while providing water for the environment. Through its investments in water infrastructure across the nation, the Australian Government is also working to boost economic development and productivity across rural and regional Australia more broadly.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has a strong presence in regional Australia, with more than 17 per cent of its employees based in regional areas. These officers undertake a range of functions in support of agricultural industries, including biosecurity services, plant and animal pest and disease monitoring, surveillance and management of water programs.

In 2017–18, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority will transition to its new location to Armidale, following the move of the Fisheries, Grains and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporations in recent times. These moves are an important element of the Australian Government’s agenda to better support regional Australia by relocating agencies outside of the capital cities so they are closer to the communities they serve.

New Initiatives

Regional Investment Corporation

The 2017–18 Budget establishes a Regional Investment Corporation to deliver up to $4.0 billion in farm business and water infrastructure loans. This was a 2016 election commitment made by the Australian Government to establish a national body to administer $2.0 billion of farm business concessional loans and the $2.0 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility from 2018–19.

Establishing the Regional Investment Corporation will have a positive impact on regional Australia. The aim of the Regional Investment Corporation is to streamline delivery of loan arrangements, deliver national consistency and ensure farm business loans are speedily approved to help farm businesses in need, as well as providing loans to State and Territory governments for the construction of nationally significant water infrastructure.

Livestock Exports Global Assurance Program

The 2017–18 Budget delivers on the Australian Government’s 2016 election commitment to contribute $8.3 million from 2017–18 over four years to the development by industry of the Livestock Exports Global Assurance Program. This program will be an assessment and certification assurance system to enable livestock exporters to meet their existing regulatory requirements under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) through a third-party in a more effective and cost-efficient way.

Strengthening Australia’s Food Safety System

The 2017–18 Budget provides for the Australian Government’s strengthening of Australia’s imported food safety system to better protect consumer health. The new system will reduce the regulatory burden for compliant food importers while upholding Australia’s international obligations. It is expected that the legislative amendments will become effective during 2018 and non-legislative changes will be progressively implemented throughout 2017.

New Agricultural Production Levies

The Australian Government will invest up to $1.6 million over four years to match funding raised by a statutory research and development levy to increase the Australian thoroughbred industry’s profitability and competitiveness. The thoroughbred research and development levy will be introduced from 1 July 2017 and the Australian Government will match industry contributions up to $0.4 million per year. The thoroughbred research and development program will continue to be managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. This delivers on the 2016 Australian Government election commitment.

The Australian Government will also invest up to $0.7 million over four years to match funding raised by a new statutory research and development levy on Australian tea tree oil to increase that industry’s profitability and competitiveness. The tea tree oil research and development levy will be introduced from 1 July 2017 and the Australian Government will match industry contributions up to $140,000 per year. The tea tree research and development program will continue to be managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. This delivers on a commitment in the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

National Landcare Program

The Australian Government has confirmed the allocation of funding from the Natural Heritage Trust for the next phase of the National Landcare Program, investing $1.1 billion over seven years from 2016–17. It includes $100.0 million of additional funding for the National Landcare Program announced in December 2016, to support on-ground community projects that protect, restore and sustain our soils, water and the diversity of Australia’s unique plants and animals and threatened species, including additional funding to expand Indigenous Protected Areas.

The next phase of the program will continue to improve natural resource management to protect Australia’s iconic places, plants and animals, secure agricultural productivity gains and farm-gate returns and strengthen regional economies. The funding will ensure the valuable work of Landcare groups and Indigenous communities delivering on-ground biodiversity and sustainable agriculture outcomes continues.

The National Landcare Program is jointly administered by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of Environment and Energy.

Farm Business Concessional Loans Scheme—Extension of Eligibility

In 2017–18 the Australian Government will extend the eligibility of the existing Farm Business Concessional Loans Scheme to include Farm Household Allowance recipients who will be exhausting their 1,095 days of entitlement on or before 30 June 2018. This will assist eligible farmers to continue to improve their farm businesses and become financially self-reliant, helping their local economies to prosper.

Current Initiatives

Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper

The Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper was launched on 4 July 2015. From 2015–16 the Australian Government is investing $4.0 billion in our farmers and delivers on the 2013 election commitment. The measures under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper focus on five key areas:

  • A fairer go for farm businesses;
  • Building 21st century water, transport and communication infrastructure;
  • Strengthening our approach to drought and risk management;
  • A smarter approach to farming; and
  • Accessing premium markets.

A Fairer Go for Farm Businesses

The Australian Government is helping farmers achieve a better return at the farm gate.

  • A total of $11.4 million over four years from 2015–16 is committed to boost the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission engagement with the agricultural sector. Since the establishment of an Agriculture Unit and the appointment of Commissioner Mick Keogh in February 2016, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has substantially increased its engagement with the sector. This will help encourage fair–trading and improved competition in agricultural supply chains and ensure issues are dealt with swiftly.
  • The Australian Government delivered on its $13.8 million commitment to a two year pilot program to provide farmers with knowledge and materials on co–operatives and other forms of collaboration. This  includes education tools and resources, customised expert support, and support to farmer groups working to get their collaborative project off the ground.
  • The Productivity Commission has provided final reports to the Australian Government about their inquiries into reducing regulation in agriculture and in the marine fisheries and aquaculture industries.
  • Improved country of origin labelling information, which commenced on 1 July 2016 with a two–year transition period for businesses to adjust, will give consumers clearer information on the origin of their food.
  • Changes are being made to income tax averaging arrangements to allow primary producers to return to income averaging ten years after they opted out. Primary producers who opted out of income tax averaging for 2006–07, or an earlier financial year, will resume income tax averaging for the first financial year after 2017–18 in which their taxable primary production income is greater than that for the previous financial year.
  • From 1 July 2016, farmers have been able to double their Farm Management Deposits to $800,000 and banks have allowed farmers to use Farm Management Deposits as a loan offset for their interest costs.
  • Agricultural users of agricultural and veterinary chemicals will get access to newer, better farm chemicals more quickly than in the past, and will get improved access to new uses of existing chemicals. This will make their businesses more competitive by reducing costs and improve sustainability. See Better Regulation of Agricultural Chemicals and Veterinary Medicines for further detail.

Building 21st Century Water, Transport and Communication Infrastructure

The Australian Government is planning ahead and thinking innovatively when it comes to our infrastructure.

  • The National Water Infrastructure Development Fund is providing $499.5 million from 2015–16 over ten years to support State and Territory governments develop secure and affordable water infrastructure that will drive regional economic growth, including the construction of dams, pipelines, wastewater reuse and managed aquifer recharge. See National Water Infrastructure Development Fund for further detail.
  • The Australian Government provided $0.7 million in 2015–16 to expand the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s TRAnsport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TRANSIT) to support future government infrastructure investment. The tool can better identify and propose cost–effective solutions to bottlenecks in agricultural supply chains, including road and rail options that extend from the farm gate through storage and processing facilities to domestic and export markets.

Strengthening Our Approach to Drought and Risk Management

Drought is one of the biggest challenges farmers face and can have a significant impact on agricultural output, productivity and farm incomes.

  • Farmers will have more accurate, more local and more frequent seasonal forecasts to assist with making decisions as part of the Australian Government’s commitment of $3.3 million over four years from 2015–16 for improved seasonal forecasting.
  • Eligible farm businesses are able to access a one-off rebate for the costs of obtaining independent and professional advice to apply for new insurance policies to assist with drought management and other production and market risks. Rebates are for half the costs incurred by eligible farm businesses, up to a maximum of $2,500.
  • The Australian Government is providing access to $250.0 million each year in drought loans over the next ten years starting in 2016–17. See Farm Business Concessional Loans Scheme for further detail.
  • From 1 July 2016, farmers and their partners receiving the Farm Household Allowance receive additional assistance in their third year of payment through an increase in case management and the activity supplement. See Farm Household Allowance for further detail.
  • The Australian Government has committed $35.0 million over four years from 2015–16 to the Drought Communities Programme, which is providing support to 23 drought-affected local shire councils across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. This involves shovel-ready projects that have created job opportunities and provides short-term help in communities that are suffering economic downturn due to drought. This program is led by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.
  • The Australian Government has provided $25.8 million over four years from 2015–16, to help State and Territory governments deal with the impact of feral animals and weeds in drought-stressed regions.

A Smarter Approach to Farming

The agriculture sector needs access to the most advanced technologies and practices to continue to ‘farm smarter.’

  • The Australian Government has developed clearer farmer-oriented research, development and extension priorities that will direct levy funds to areas that will improve farm gate returns.
  • $100.0 million has been provided from 2015–16 to extend the Rural Research and Development for Profit Programme to 2021–22, meaning farmers will benefit from getting research out of the laboratory and onto the farm, which is key to productivity growth. See the Rural Research and Development for Profit Programme for more detail.
  • A research boost over three years will be provided from 2016–17 to the export fodder industry to match the new agricultural production levy for exported fodder, as well as an increase in the matchable voluntary contribution rate for Forest and Wood Products Australia.
  • The Australian Government is providing support for research, development and extension in small industries through $1.2 million over three years from 2016–17 for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.
  • The Australian Government will be better placed to tackle pest and disease incidents, and to enable future containment and eradication programs to be put in place, with $50.0 million committed over four years from 2015–16 to boost our emergency pest and disease eradication and national response capability.
  • Farmers will have access to better tools and control methods for managing pest (including feral) animals and weeds, as well as support from the Australian Government for pest and weed management through a $50.0 million commitment over four years from 2015–16, to manage established pest animals and weeds.

Accessing Premium Markets

Improving international trade will grow farm businesses and increase financial returns for farmers.

  • The Australian Government has committed $30.8 million over four years from 2015–16 to break down technical barriers to trade, in turn helping farmers and food processors to achieve increased returns from increased security of existing market access and access to new markets. This included appointing five new agricultural counsellors who have been working in Australia’s key export markets to assist farmers grow their markets.
  • Effective biosecurity protects our agricultural industries and the community from the impact of exotic pests and diseases, and supports our access to overseas markets. The Australian Government is investing almost $200.0 million over four years from 2015–16 to improve biosecurity surveillance and analysis to better target critical biosecurity risks, including in northern Australia.
  • Sound traceability systems help to ensure markets remain open, thereby increasing access and returns to farmers. The Australian Government has committed $12.4 million from 2015–16 over four–years to modernise traceability systems, to verify integrity of products and improve access to overseas markets.

Beef Australia 2018 and Beef Week

The Australian Government has committed $3.0 million from 2016–17 over three years to support the next Beef Australia event in 2018. The event is Australia’s largest trade show for the beef and cattle industries, held once every three years in Rockhampton, Queensland. It showcases the Australian beef industry to domestic and international trading partners. The last event held in 2015 attracted over 30,000 visitors including over 1,000 international visitors. The event includes a series of industry based seminars, trade shows and cattle competitions. Through its Handshakes program it provides a business matching between Australian businesses and international customers. This program is supported by Austrade, Meat and Livestock Australia, and Trade and Investment Queensland. The Australian Government has also committed $1.0 million over four years from 2016–17 to support Beef Week, a celebration of the Australian beef industry held annually in Casino, New South Wales.

Biosecurity Integrated Information System

The Biosecurity Integrated Information System is an Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper initiative that will allow for the collection, collation and analysis of information to support biosecurity activities. Funding of $30.9 million over three years from 2016–17 will be used to develop new applications to improve the management of biosecurity risks through better processes, data sharing and analytics.

To improve the quality and completeness of the data collected by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Biosecurity Integrated Information System will replace the functionality of some legacy border systems and improve the department’s capabilities in biosecurity operations and management of pest and disease threats.

The Biosecurity Integrated Information System and related Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper initiatives to develop an advanced analytics capability will improve the identification and management of risks offshore, at the border, and during emergency responses onshore. It will support more responsive development of biosecurity policy and better decision making.

Australia’s favourable pest status underpins our ability to maintain or gain access to overseas markets for our agricultural produce. The Biosecurity Integrated Information System will enable the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to better demonstrate pest and disease status to support agricultural exports and the development of biosecurity and trade policy. This will ensure that Australia keeps pace with any changing requirements of our trading partners and support Australian exporters to take full advantage of new agricultural trade deals.

Commonwealth Water Functions

The Australian Government will provide $398.0 million over three years to 2019–20 for statutory functions and institutions established by the Water Act 2007 to implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and deliver on the Australian Government’s broader water reform agenda. The continuation of funding for Commonwealth water functions is critical for the long-term viability of farmers and regional and rural communities in the Murray-Darling Basin and across Australia.

Ongoing funding has been provided for the Australian Government’s contribution to Murray-Darling Basin joint programs and the work of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which contributes to the sustainability of Murray-Darling Basin communities by investing in major water infrastructure and maintaining existing River Murray assets.

Funding for water policy functions within the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has been extended for seven years, both for the Murray-Darling Basin and in other areas where the Australian Government has an important role in water policy. Continuation of these activities is essential for effective national management of water issues which underpin key economic activities, including water and food security and export capability and the ongoing health of ecological systems that protect biodiversity, river health and recreational industries.

Commodity Milk Price Index

The Australian Government is providing $2.0 million over four years from 2016–17 to develop a Commodity Milk Price Index to provide greater transparency on domestic and global dairy prices to support dairy farmers.

The dairy industry provides employment for around 39,000 people Australia-wide and creates exports valued at $2.5 billion. For regional Australia, the dairy industry is a key employer and contributor to regional economies and towns. The delivery of a milk price index will positively impact dairying regions by assisting in improving on-farm planning and decision making, which contributes to the profitability of farms.

Leadership in Agricultural Industries Fund

The Australian Government is providing $5.0 million over three years from 2016–17 for the Leadership in Agricultural Industries Fund, a new program that supports initiatives to develop leadership capacity and capability within agricultural industries. This will assist farm leaders to advocate agricultural and rural issues to the Australian community, government and other stakeholders. The Leadership in Agricultural Industries Fund will also work to build skills at the grass roots level, recognising the continuing need for leadership support and mentoring in the agriculture sector. It will deliver grants to industry representative bodies under guidelines that allow applicants to describe their needs and outline how the grant could address those requirements.

National Institute for Forest Products Innovation

The Australian Government is providing $4.0 million over five years from 2016–17 to support the establishment of a National Institute for Forest Products Innovation. This measure delivers on the 2016 election commitment to establish research hubs both at the University of Tasmania campus in Launceston and in Mount Gambier, South Australia.

Together with the Australian Government contributions, matching funding from the Tasmanian and South Australian Governments, as well from industry, the total cost of the National Institute for Forest Innovation will be $12.0 million over five years. This investment will help boost opportunities for jobs and growth in the forest products industry into the future. The National Institute for Forest Products Innovation will also provide additional research and development across Australia to investigate innovation in forest management, timber processing, wood fibre recovery, advanced manufacturing and the bio-economy.

Northern Australia Rice Industry

The Australian Government is providing $4.0 million over four years from 2016–17 for investment in a research and development program to assist the development of the rice industry in northern Australia. The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation is administering the program.

The Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia outlined the need for further investment in agricultural research and development in northern Australia to increase competitiveness and productivity, and meet export demand from growing Asian markets. The Northern Australia Rice Industry measure is delivering research and development that is tailored to growing conditions in northern Australia and is needed to help establish a productive and profitable northern rice industry.

Establishing a rice industry in northern Australia is expected to have positive economic and social impacts on businesses, community organisations and individuals across northern Australia. It will allow farmers to diversify and improve their ability to undertake productive, profitable and sustainable enterprises by providing a lucrative alternative crop to traditional northern crops like sugar. It will strengthen Australia’s rice exports by allowing the Australian rice industry to meet the existing demand for Australian rice on international markets.

Support for Recreational and Commercial Fishing Peak Bodies

The Australian Government is committed to managing Australia’s fisheries to ensure that both commercial and recreational fishers can sustainably access our shared fisheries resources. To deliver on its 2016 election commitment to strengthen the voice of recreational and Indigenous fishers, the Australian Government has introduced amendments to fisheries legislation that will improve opportunities for recreational fishers to contribute to the management of Commonwealth fisheries.

The Australian Government is also establishing a National Recreational Fishing Council to provide advice on policy development and implementation. A national recreational fishing survey in 2017, the first since 2001, will provide important socio-economic data on recreational fishing.  The Australian Government has provided grant funding of $0.5 million over four years to 30 June 2018, to the Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation, to develop and promote sustainable fishing practices.

Reef Programme

The Australian Government has committed over $82.4 million over four years from 2014–15 from the National Landcare Programme to the Reef Recovery Programme. This funding is part of the Australian Government’s joint commitment with Queensland to ensure a $2.0 billion investment in the Great Barrier Reef over ten years. The Reef Programme includes funding to assist land managers across the reef catchment to adopt improved agricultural and urban management practices that reduce the discharge of nutrients, sediments and pesticides in the Reef lagoon and thereby improve the Great Barrier Reef’s resilience.

The Reef Programme is jointly managed by the Department of the Environment and Energy and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Export and Regional Wine Support Package

The Export and Regional Wine Support Package will provide the Australian Grape and Wine Authority with $50.0 million over four years from 2016–17 to fund a range of initiatives to promote Australian wine and Australian wine tourism both domestically and overseas.

These initiatives will include, but are not limited to:

  • Australian wine export promotion in overseas markets;
  • promotion of wine tourism to regional wine producing areas targeting both domestic and international tourists; and
  • assistance for wine producers and exporters to access new markets or improve market share in existing markets.

This package will directly benefit regional wine producers by improving domestic and international wine tourism. These activities, along with broader marketing and promotional opportunities, will help to drive exports of Australian wine and take advantage of recent free trade agreements in key markets.

Wine Tourism and Cellar Door Grants

The Wine Tourism and Cellar Door Grant will provide wine producers who exceed their wine equalisation tax rebate cap to access a grant of up to $100,000 for their cellar door sales. The grant will be available from 2019–20 and the program will be capped at $10.0 million per year. Wine tourism is an important part of many regional economies. The grant is expected to have a positive economic and social impact on wine producers and tourism operators in regional Australia. It will encourage producers to invest in and build winery cellar doors, which may lead to more investment in tourism opportunities.

Rural Research and Development for Profit Programme

The Rural Research and Development for Profit Programme provides $180.5 million over eight years to 2021–22, to the rural research and development corporations for collaborative research to improve productivity and profitability at the farm-gate.

Grant funding of almost $79.0 million has been provided to date, matched by more than $109.0 million in cash and in-kind contributions from successful applicants and their partners. This includes grant funding of $26.7 million for 12 projects under round one and $52.2 million for 17 projects under round two. Round three is currently under assessment and will provide funding of up to $30.0 million for additional projects. Successful round three projects are expected to be announced by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources in May 2017.

Investment in Rural Research, Development and Innovation

Investment in research, development and innovation is vital for ongoing growth and improvement in the productivity, profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of Australia’s agriculture, fisheries, forestry and food industries. The main way that the Australian Government invests in rural research and development is through the 15 rural research and development corporations. The Australian Government will provide over $300.0 million in matching contributions to the rural research and development corporations in 2017–18. These investments are complemented by funding to Cooperative Research Centres, universities, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and other departmental programs.

The 15 rural research and development corporations commission research for the benefit of the industries that they service and the Australian community in general. The research focuses on strategic priorities, such as improving productivity, developing new products or crop varieties, advancing profitable farming systems, managing resources sustainably, or building skills and capacity within the industry. The work of the rural research and development corporations contributes significantly to the strengthening of the economic diversity of regional Australia. Each research and development corporation has developed five-year strategic plans and, during 2017–18, each corporation will continue to advance their strategic goals.

Farm Business Concessional Loans Scheme

Under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the Australian Government made available $250.0 million in loans each year over ten years, starting in 2016–17. As part of this measure, the Farm Business Concessional Loans Scheme opened on 1 November 2016 with $250.0 million available in 2017–18. The scheme offers two types of loans:

  • Drought Assistance Concessional Loans, which are available to assist eligible farm businesses in need of financial assistance to manage, recover from and prepare for droughts and maintain prospects for long term commercial viability.
  • Dairy Recovery Concessional Loans, which are available to assist eligible dairy farm businesses affected by the retrospective decisions of Murray Goulburn, Fonterra and National Dairy Products to reduce farm gate milk prices towards the end of 2015–16.

Loans can be used for debt restructuring, or providing new debt for operating expenses, drought recovery and preparedness or for productivity enhancement activities. Loan terms are a maximum of ten years. Loan amounts are limited to a maximum of $1.0 million with conditions applying.

Farm Household Allowance

The Australian Government recognises that farmers may experience significant financial hardship for a range of reasons—not just during drought. The Farm Household Allowance is an uncapped, demand–driven program that provides eligible farmers and their partners who are experiencing financial hardship with assistance and support to improve their long-term financial position.

Through the Farm Household Allowance, eligible applicants can access household income support, paid at the same rate as Newstart Allowance (or Youth Allowance, if under 22 years of age). The Farm Household Allowance is administered by the Department of Human Services.

As part of this program, recipients have access to case management services and a financial supplement of up to $3,000 to help them to undertake activities to improve their financial self–reliance. As announced in the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, from 1 July 2016 Farm Household Allowance recipients who are in their final (third) year of payment have access to an additional $1,000 for high value activities and increased case management to assist their transition off payment before their entitlement ceases.

Rural Financial Counselling Service

The Australian Government is continuing the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper measure to fund additional rural financial counsellors to meet increased demands on the Rural Financial Counselling Service, during periods of drought, at a cost of $7.1 million over four years to 2019–20. This support is in addition to the Australian Government’s ongoing investment of $14.5 million annually for the Rural Financial Counselling Service.

The Rural Financial Counselling Service provides free rural financial counselling to farmers, fishing enterprises, forestry growers and harvesters, and small, related businesses suffering financial hardship. There are 12 service providers across Australia that employ rural financial counsellors to assist clients in need. The Rural Financial Counselling Service is funded by the Australian Government and State and Northern Territory governments.

Drought conditions often lead to an increased number of people in rural areas in financial distress and this funding allows eligible clients to access prompt and individualised assistance to assess their business situation.

Encouraging Investment by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in Agriculture

Through the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Australian Government is delivering on its election commitment to encourage investment by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in the agriculture sector. Investment in suitable projects, which meet the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s mandate to increase commercial investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and low emissions technologies, can also provide opportunities for agricultural businesses to improve their energy efficiency, productivity, profitability and ultimately competitiveness at the farm gate.

Relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

The Australian Government is providing $25.6 million over six years, from 2016–17 to relocate the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale, New South Wales. This measure will support the establishment of a Centre of Agricultural Excellence at the University of New England, with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority partnering with the University of New England and other specialist agricultural research centres to become an agriculture research hub.

The Australian Government is committed to boosting jobs and strengthening regional communities. Relocating the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority will deliver new local jobs, increase the availability of skilled employees and increase the diversity and resilience of the Armidale region’s economy. The move will reinforce the link between the regulator of agricultural and veterinary chemicals and the communities that use them. It also provides the opportunity for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to modernise its business processes to ensure the agency is best positioned to provide improved services into the future.

Better Regulation of Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals

In the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the Australian Government committed to streamline the regulation of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines while retaining protections for the health and safety of humans, animals and the environment.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is continuing to work with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, industry and others to develop reforms that provide for a more modern, responsive and flexible regulatory environment that better aligns regulatory effort with risk. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has conducted extensive consultation to inform the development of reforms and will continue to engage with stakeholders on longer-term reform opportunities.

These reforms will provide farmers and other users with access to new agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines more quickly, improving business productivity and sustainability.

Improving Access to Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals

The small size of the Australian market can discourage chemical companies from registering a chemical for use in Australia. This is particularly the case for treating pests and diseases in specialty crops and livestock species, where the likely returns may not cover registration costs. In the 2014–15 Budget, the Australian Government committed $8.0 million over four years to help improve farmers’ access to safe and effective agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is working closely with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, grower groups, rural research and development corporations and the chemical industry to deliver this commitment.

A number of activities are underway, including work to:

  • establish an agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines collaborative forum to allow users and chemical companies to identify and agree on chemical products and uses that deserve approval for use in Australia;
  • establish an assistance grants program to help fund the generation of sufficient data to support applications to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for taking into account the results of the collaborative forum;
  • establish an official Australian crop grouping list and associated Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority guidelines; and
  • migrate some Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority permits to product labels.

These initiatives, particularly the assistance grants program, will help farmers and other users get the agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines they need while longer term solutions are developed and implemented through broader reforms.

Trade and Market Access

Agricultural export industries underpin prosperity in regional Australia through both employment and income generation. The Australian Government is continuing to develop and maintain opportunities for agricultural products to ensure they remain competitive and find new markets overseas. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources contributes to improving market access through:

  • negotiating science-based, commercially viable conditions for Australian exports;
  • making representations and submissions in response to importing country measures or international standards that are not science-based or unnecessarily restrict trade of Australian products;
  • engaging in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations, including through Free Trade Agreements to remove barriers to trade and expand opportunities for Australian exports; and
  • influencing international agricultural policies, management strategies, protocols and standards so that Australian exports are not disadvantaged in world markets.

Support for Small Exporters

The 2014–15 Budget implemented the Australian Government’s 2013 election commitment to provide a rebate for export registration costs to assist small exporters. A total of $15.0 million has been allocated over four years to focus on assisting small exporters to improve market access. The initiative includes funding for 2015–16 to 2017–18 for projects to improve market access, with a focus on small exporters.

Better Management of Biosecurity Risks—Advanced Analytics Capability

The Biosecurity Advanced Analytics Capability initiative will allow for better decision-making and targeting of risks that threaten our agricultural sector and the rural communities that depend on them, the environment and the broader economy. It will enhance Australia’s ability to manage the impact of biosecurity risks and maximise trade.

Funding of $15.9 million over four years from 2016–17 is being used to build an advanced analytics capability within the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, including dedicated data and analytics specialists to better support biosecurity decision making.

The initiative will ensure better access to data that is needed to improve biosecurity decision-making. This will increase our ability to know why, when, where and what pests and diseases should be the focus of biosecurity activities. Sharing of biosecurity data with States and Territories will be enhanced, to increase preparedness for potential pest and disease incursions. Access to biosecurity information will be developed in line with the Australian Government’s Public Data agenda.

Stronger Biosecurity and Quarantine

The Stronger Biosecurity and Quarantine initiative delivers on the Australian Government’s 2013 election commitment to provide $20.0 million over four years from 2014–15 to 2017–18 to strengthen Australia’s biosecurity and quarantine arrangements. The initiative provides early assistance to respond rapidly to pest and disease incursions in order to reduce the adverse impacts on affected regions, industries and communities.

The funding supplements existing arrangements to assess new pest and disease incursions for appropriate management, including containment and eradication where possible. This includes deployment of response personnel as well as support arrangements such as access to technical expert advice on best practice response measures and arrangements. It augments existing preparedness activities, improving the development of standard operating procedures, training of personnel, and vaccine stores to aid early detection and rapid response.

The funding helps to maintain market access for Australian industries in the event of a pest or disease incursion by working to ensure necessary processes are in place to enable access for affected commodities to each export destination. It supports the Australian Government’s capacity to respond to pest and disease incidents where overseas representation may be required to maintain or regain market access for Australia’s agricultural industries.

National Carp Control Plan

Carp are the worst freshwater aquatic pest in Australia. They dominate the Murray-Darling Basin, where they can make up 80–90 per cent of fish biomass, with significant detrimental effects on water quality and ecosystem health. The economic impacts of carp infestation have been estimated at up to $500.0 million per year, with the majority of this impact felt in regional areas.

The Australian Government provided $15.0 million over three years from 2016–17 to support the development of the National Carp Control Plan. This funding will deliver the scientific research, operational planning, community engagement and communications activities required to support a potential carp virus release and subsequent clean up. The aim is to ensure that the National Carp Control Plan enables maximum impact on carp populations with minimum disruption to industries, communities and the environment. The plan is expected to be finalised in 2018.

The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation will lead the development of the National Carp Control Plan, working in conjunction with a national coordinator, governments and relevant stakeholders. Successful implementation of the National Carp Control Plan will provide an opportunity to dramatically improve the health of our inland waterways bringing substantial benefits to regional communities and water users, including farmers, recreational fishers and tourism operators. A decision on whether to implement the plan will be subject to agreement from all jurisdictions on the best implementation and funding arrangements.

A New Post-Entry Quarantine Facility

The 2012-13 Budget included a $379.9 million investment over seven years in the construction and operation of a new Australian Government owned and operated post-entry quarantine facility for high risk animal and plant imports. Land for a new facility was acquired at Mickleham in Victoria in 2012 to consolidate existing animal and plant services to a single location. Operations commenced in November 2015 with the first arrival of imported animals. Phase two of construction commenced in early 2016 with the first two compound extensions handed to the Australian Government in the first quarter of 2017. The remaining buildings will be completed by late 2017, and all operations at other facilities will be transferred progressively to the new station with the process scheduled to be completed in 2018.

National Water Infrastructure Development Fund

The National Water Infrastructure Development Fund is providing $499.5 million over ten years from 2015–16 to support State and Territory governments develop secure and affordable water infrastructure that will drive regional economic growth, including the construction of dams, pipelines, wastewater reuse and managed aquifer recharge. Up to $200.0 million is targeted at northern Australia.

The $59.5 million feasibility component of the fund has been fully committed with 39 feasibility studies funded to inform water resource planning and infrastructure investment decisions by States. Of this, $40.4 million is for studies in northern Australia.

Through the $440.0 million capital component of the fund, $247.5 million was committed during the 2016 election to co-fund with the States and their private partners the construction of five water infrastructure projects (conditional on all planning and approvals being in place):

  • $130.0 million for Rookwood Weir (Queensland);
  • $75.0 million for Dungowan Dam (New South Wales):
  • $20.0 million for the modernisation of the Macalister Irrigation District (Victoria);
  • $20.0 million for the South West Loddon pipeline (Victoria); and
  • $2.5 million for McLaren Vale water storage (South Australia).

On 27 October 2016 the expression of interest process opened to the States for the remaining $192.5 million to co-fund water infrastructure projects, which will be completed in July 2017.

National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility

The National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility was opened to expressions of interest on 8 February 2017, providing State and Territory governments with access to $2.0 billion in concessional loans to fast track the construction of significant water infrastructure assets. This includes the construction of dams, pipelines and managed aquifer recharge projects that are economically viable and will generate affordable and secure water to grow regional economies.

Loans are available over ten years from 2016–17 to 2025–26, with the starting concessional rate of 2.22 per cent. The loan facility is designed to complement the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

Construction of new water infrastructure will help drive the development of regional economies including in the agriculture and resources industries (such as mining and energy). Access to affordable water will be a key influence over the extent to which Australia’s farm and food sectors can realise export growth opportunities and meet growing demand from population growth.

Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program

The Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program is a national program investing in rural water use, management and efficiency. It is the key mechanism to ‘bridge the gap’ to the sustainable diversion limits under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and consists of three main components: irrigation infrastructure projects, water purchases, and supply measures.

The Australian Government has a preference for recovering water through investment in infrastructure. The majority of the funds under the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program have been committed to projects in the Murray-Darling Basin for improving the operation of off-farm delivery systems and helping irrigators improve on-farm water use efficiency. The water savings generated from these projects are shared between the Australian Government for environmental use and irrigators for consumptive use, supporting increased productivity and economic activity in regional communities. Australian Government investments outside the Murray–Darling Basin include $201.8 million over 11 years from 2008–09 to 2018–19 in Tasmania to support the construction of dams and backbone irrigation infrastructure.

All Murray-Darling Basin State governments have agreed to arrangements that allow for up to 650 gigalitres of Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustments to be achieved through supply measure projects which offset the need for water to be acquired through purchase. These supply measure works will continue until 2024.

The Australian Government has legislated to limit purchase of surface water entitlements across the Murray-Darling Basin to 1,500 gigalitres. As at 31 January 2017, water purchases total 1,165.6 gigalitres and any further purchases will be strategic in nature. The limit on purchases helps provide Murray–Darling Basin communities with more certainty that the Australian Government will ensure a balance between agriculture, the environment and the socio-economic wellbeing of communities.

Prev. Index Next