Agriculture and Water Resources: Regional Australia—A Stronger Economy Delivering Stronger Regions 2018–19

The Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio includes the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and nine portfolio bodies. The portfolio works with national and international governments and industry partners to grow the value of agricultural trade, enhance productivity and to reduce risk to the agriculture sector.

The Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio has a diverse role as a policy adviser to government, researcher, program administrator, market access negotiator and regulator. The portfolio’s work contributes to increasing, improving and maintaining market access for our primary producers, encouraging agricultural productivity in our primary industries, and supporting sustainable resource management to benefit primary producers and the community.

Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry are multi-billion dollar industries that benefit from our regulation, research, policies and programs to improve their productivity, competitiveness and sustainability.

We manage biosecurity risks to the environment and to human, animal and plant health by ensuring the safe movement of millions of people, vessels and aircraft in to and out of Australia. We support Australia’s ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from pest and disease incursions.

Australia’s water is critical to the future of agriculture and the wellbeing of the environment and our communities. We work to improve the health of rivers and freshwater systems, to ensure the sustainable, efficient and productive management and use of water resources. We lead the Australian Government’s contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and support regional economies and the environment through large-scale investment to improve returns to irrigators and the community, while providing water for the environment.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has a strong presence in regional Australia, with more than 11 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 2018-19, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority will continue its transition to its new location in Armidale, following moves by AgriFutures Australia, the Fisheries and Grains Research and Development Corporations, and the Murray Darling Basin Authority. 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

Enhancing Australia’s Biosecurity System

The 2018-19 Budget includes $101.6 million over four years for Australia’s national biosecurity system. This forms part of the Australian Government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Dr Wendy Craik’s report, Priorities for Australia’s biosecurity system: An independent review of the capacity of the national biosecurity system and its underpinning intergovernmental agreement. This investment will deliver four key initiatives to help protect our favourable pest and disease status:

  • trialling new detection technologies at the border
  • strengthening priority pest and disease planning and response
  • improved targeted assurance, verification and enforcement for biosecurity and imported food

By doing this work Australia’s agricultural industries, global trade markets and our unique environment and way of life will be better protected from the world’s worst pest and diseases.

Growing Australian Agricultural Exports

The 2018-19 Budget includes $51.3 million over four years to ensure Australia’s continued growth and competitiveness in agriculture and food exports. The funding will extend five agricultural counsellor positions in Vietnam, Malaysia, the Middle East, China and Thailand and fund a further six positions in key export markets. The funding will expand the overseas network to 22 positions in total.

These resources help farmers and exporters seize opportunities in global food chains through growing exports and accessing new markets. Effort will also be focused on maintaining and improving current market access arrangements for our agricultural products in an increasingly complex, competitive and evolving trading environment.

The program will build on gains made through the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper. The funding will ensure that improvements in trade arrangements and access into a large number of markets continues to be achieved through free trade agreements and subsequent work to gain technical market access by providing science based assurances to importing countries about the food safety, pest and disease status of Australia’s exported agricultural products and efforts to reduce non-tariff barriers (licensing, labelling and registration requirements).

National Forestry Industry Plan

The 2018-19 Budget includes $20 million over four years to deliver on the Prime Minister’s commitment to establish a National Forestry Industry Plan to underpin growth in Australia’s renewable timber and wood‑fibre industry.

The plan will include actions that encourage growth in the forestry industry which support jobs in regional and rural Australia. This in turn will assist industry to maintain its competitiveness, continue to adapt and respond to pressures and seize opportunities arising from globalisation, transformative technologies and evolving market preferences.

The program will positively impact on the forestry, forest products and wood fibre industries across Australia, and the value chains and regional communities that rely on these industries. Small forest growers will be supported with both research and advice, while corporate forest growers and the processing industry will be supported with additional research.

Managing Fruit Fly in Tasmania

The 2018-19 Budget includes $20 million to assist with the management of the fruit fly outbreak in northern Tasmania. The funding is part of the Australian Government’s efforts to eradicate fruit fly from Tasmania and protect vital industries and local jobs. The investment will enable the Tasmanian Government to undertake further work as part of the biosecurity response, including surveillance and work to prove areas are fruit fly free.

The fruit industry in Tasmania directly employs over 1,000 people and accounts for nine per cent of people employed in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector. Tasmania's fruit fly Pest Free Area status is integral to its ability to export fruit to international markets.

This investment will help safeguard the state, industries, businesses and community from the impact of fruit fly and other serious biosecurity pests.

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA)—Digital Transformation

The 2018-19 Budget includes $10.1 million over three years to deliver modern, digital business systems to transform the APVMA into an efficient and effective regulator in regional Australia. It will also ensure that Australian farmers can have faster access to safer and more effective agricultural and veterinary chemicals, resulting in improved international competitiveness, productivity and agricultural outputs.

The proposal will support relocation of the APVMA to Armidale and will facilitate the establishment of a Centre of Agricultural Excellence. It will improve APVMA client experiences through better communications tools, online submissions and end-to-end management of applications. It will provide certainty in application and registration processes, improve timeframes for registering products and reducing the time taken to get products to market, improve transparency across the registration process with new, streamlined business systems, and deliver efficient, predictable and transparent assessments.

Established Pest Animals and Weed Management

The 2018-19 Budget will invest up to $6.6 million in 2019-20 in research, development and extension, national coordination and key infrastructure to help better manage priority established pest animal and weed species. This will build on the Australian Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper funding to improve the management of established pest animals and weeds.

The program will provide Australian farmers with access to the most advanced technologies and practices to farm smarter and reduce the impact of pests and weeds. This funding will also continue to promote a shared responsibility and encourage co-investment from state and territory governments into research, development and extension activities for better pest animal and weed control and management. Investment in innovative strategies to reduce the impact of pests and weeds will build on the foundations for a stronger Australian agriculture sector and regional economy, minimise impacts on local and regional communities, improve productivity and profitability on farms and help maintain and improve access to global markets.

Improved Access to Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals

The 2018-19 Budget extends the established program to improve access to agricultural and veterinary medicines that commenced in 2014-15.

The Budget provides a further $6.3 million over two years for collaboration between farmers and chemical industries, for a grant scheme and support Australia’s involvement in international chemical access activities. This initiative seeks to address systemic barriers to ongoing chemical access.

This initiative will improve grower access to agricultural chemical technology to support farm business transformation (through diversification in crops) and strengthen farm business growth. A lack of access for Australian farm businesses to chemical pest control technology for speciality crops and emerging commodities (‘minor uses’) denies them the ability to benefit from changes in consumer wants (such as a more diversified diet) and growth possible through international trade. Improved access will also allow Australian trade to grow in these industries.

Seasonal Agricultural Labour Demand and Supply

The 2018-19 Budget will deliver improved understanding and data on seasonal agricultural labour needs. Access to reliable sources of appropriately skilled and seasonal labour in the agriculture and food industries is critical to the future competitiveness of Australia’s rural and regional economies. Better understanding the changing needs of the agricultural labour force will better inform targeted policy responses by government. This will support regional businesses gain access to the workers they need to grow.

Backed by $4.7 million in new funding, an expanded supplementary survey by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) will collect data on labour expenditure, number and type of people employed on-farm, the mix of skills required by farm businesses (including seasonal and skilled workers) across different agricultural industries, as well as the challenges in recruiting and retaining employees. This analysis will help to inform employment and labour market programs and efforts to ensure rural and regional businesses can access the appropriate mix of seasonal and skilled workers to meet their future labour needs.

Indonesia-Australia Red Meat and Cattle Partnership

The 2018-19 Budget includes $3.6 million to extend the Indonesia-Australia Red Meat and Cattle Partnership grants program for a further five years. The program will ensure the Partnership can continue to fund mutually beneficial projects for the Australia-Indonesia red meat and cattle sector. The program forms part of Australia’s broader long-term strategy with Indonesia, working to underpin Australia’s trade interests and increase Australia’s ability to influence Indonesian policy development and promote the liberalisation of trade and ease of trade restrictions across the sector.

Current Initiatives

Regional Investment Corporation

From 2018-19, the Regional Investment Corporation will deliver up to $2.0 billion in Commonwealth farm business concessional loans and the $2.0 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility.

Establishing the Regional Investment Corporation will have a positive impact on regional Australia. The Regional Investment Corporation will streamline administration of farm business loan arrangements, to ensure they are delivered in a nationally consistent and efficient manner, as well as providing loans to state and territory governments for the construction of nationally significant water infrastructure.

Red Imported Fire Ants Eradication Program

Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) are one of the world’s worst invasive species due to their devastating economic, environmental and social impacts. If RIFA were to establish in Australia, it would create costs for the public health system, schools, parks and wildlife, transport and roads, sport and recreation and industries at the local, state and federal level. Regional biodiversity and ecosystems would also be irreparably damaged and quality of life in communities lowered.

From 2017-18, the Australian Government is investing an additional $212.5 million (indexed) over ten years in the south east Queensland RIFA eradication program. This funding is in addition to resourcing already provided through the National Partnership on Pest and Disease Preparedness and Response Programs and will intensify current RIFA eradication efforts with the aim of full eradication over 10 years.

Centre for Invasive Species Solutions

This program delivers on the Australian Government’s election commitment to invest $20 million over five years from 2017-18, for research, development and extension activities aimed at the management of invasive species, by transitioning the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre to a new Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

The program provides continuity for and builds on the key work the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre undertook in invasive species management, following the conclusion of Cooperative Research Centre Program funding, through the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in June 2017. The $20 million investment under this proposal is expected to leverage up to $70 million cash and in-kind from universities, state governments, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and industry partners.

Immediate Assistance Fund

Preventing or stamping out new and emerging threats is easier and more cost-effective than managing a pest, weed or disease that has established and spread.

Under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the Australian Government is investing $50 million over four years from 2015-16 to respond rapidly and effectively to eradicate potentially devastating pests, weeds and diseases. This includes an ongoing Immediate Assistance Fund that, in the event of an incursion, can assist affected jurisdictions and industry by delivering experts and equipment on the ground as soon as possible.

National Partnership on Pest and Disease Preparedness and Response Programs

The Australian Government will continue to support the eradication of exotic animal and plant pests and diseases that, if allowed to establish and spread, would have serious economic and environmental impacts. Through the National Partnership on Pest and Disease Preparedness and Response Programs, the Australian Government will provide up to $161.5 million over five years from 2017-18 to support nationally agreed eradication responses. The Australian Government is involved owing to the potential implications for biodiversity, market access for agricultural production and the need to protect nationally significant environmental assets.

Livestock Exports Global Assurance Program

The Australian Government is contributing $8.3 million from 2017-18 over four years to its election commitment to support the development by industry of the Livestock Exports Global Assurance Program. This program will be an assessment and certification assurance system that enables 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.

National Landcare Program

The Australian Government is investing $1.1 billion over seven years from 2016-17 in the next phase of the National Landcare Program (Landcare). Landcare 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.

Landcare includes $134.0 million over six years from 2017-18 for the Smart Farms program, which includes:

  • Smart Farming Partnerships, under which $60.0 million is available over six years from 2017-18, with grants ranging from $250,000 to $4.0 million to support the development, trialling and implementation of new and innovative tools that protect and improve the condition of natural resources, in particular soils and vegetation.
  • Smart Farms Small Grants, under which $50.0 million is available over six years from 2017-18, with grants ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 to develop and extend new tools and technologies to support small community and industry groups. These grants will be implemented to increase land managers’ awareness, knowledge, capability and adoption of tools and management practices that will deliver more productive and profitable agriculture, fishing, aquaculture and forestry industries.
  • Building Landcare Community and Capacity, under which $24.0 million is available over six years from 2017-18 for Landcare Australia and the National Landcare Network, to support the sharing of knowledge and achievements in natural resource management and promote community leadership.

The National Landcare Program also includes $450.0 million over five years from 2018‑19 for Regional Land Partnerships. This component of the program will be delivered jointly by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Department of Environment and Energy to deliver national priorities at a regional and local level.

Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper

The Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper was launched on 4 July 2015. From 2015-16, the Australian Government has been investing $4.0 billion in our farmers and delivering on the 2013 election commitment. White Paper measures 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
  • accessing premium markets.

A Fairer Go for Farm Businesses

The Australian Government is helping farmers achieve a better return at the farm gate in the following ways:

  • A total of $11.4 million over four years from 2015-16 has been 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.
  • The Government has implemented improved country of origin labelling information, which commenced on 1 July 2016 with a two‑year transition period for businesses to adjust. This will give consumers clearer information on the origin of their food.
  • Changes have been made to the income tax averaging arrangements to allow primary producers to return to income averaging ten years after they opted out. Primary producers who previously opted out of income tax averaging for 2006-07, or an earlier financial year, were automatically reinstated into income tax averaging for the 2016-17 income year onwards.
  • From 1 July 2016, farmers have been able to double their Farm Management Deposits to $800,000 and banks have been permitted to allow farmers to use Farm Management Deposits to 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.

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. The Australian Government is planning ahead and thinking innovatively when it comes to water infrastructure. Government initiatives include:

    • Farmers having more accurate, local and 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 being 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.
    • Providing access to $250.0 million each year in drought loans over ten years from 2016-17. See Farm Business Concessional Loans Scheme and Regional Investment Corporation for further detail.
    • 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.
    • Farmers being able to draw down their Farm Management Deposits within 12 months without losing their claimed taxation concessions if they have been affected by drought.
    • Committing $35.0 million over four years from 2015-16 to the Drought Communities Program, 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, Regional Development and Cities.
    • Providing $25.8 million over four years from2015-16, 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 Program 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 Program 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 (trading as AgriFutures Australia).

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 Australia’s 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 and new market access. This has 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 May 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 and Analytics

The Biosecurity Integrated Information System and Analytics are Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper initiatives that will allow for the collection, collation and analysis of information to support biosecurity activities. The Australian Government has provided $15.9 million from 2016-17 for four years for analytics and $30.9 million from 2016-17 to 2019-20.

The two initiatives with a combined investment of $46.8 million will improve the quality and completeness of the data collected by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to support biosecurity activities and improve decision making. These initiatives will deliver new applications to improve the management of biosecurity risks through the development of an integrated biosecurity system for the collection, collation, storage and analysis of information. The funds will support the replacement of the functionality of some legacy border systems, improve the Department’s capabilities in biosecurity operations and the management of pest and disease threats. It will also develop an advanced analytics capability for biosecurity. The Biosecurity Integrated Information System and Analytics initiative 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 inform better decision making.

Australia’s favourable pest status underpins our ability to maintain or gain access to overseas markets for our agricultural produce. This investment 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 is providing $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 is provided for the Murray-Darling Basin and in other areas where the Australian Government has an important role in water policy. These activities provide 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 up to $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 42,000 people Australia-wide and creates exports valued at $3.0 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 two years from 2017-18 for the Leadership in Agricultural Industries Fund, a program that supports initiatives to develop leadership capacity and capability within agricultural industries. This is assisting farm leaders to advocate agricultural and rural issues to the Australian community, government and other stakeholders. The Leadership in Agricultural Industries Fund also works to build skills at the grass roots level, recognising the continuing need for leadership support and mentoring in the agriculture sector. It delivers 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, confirmed matching funding from the Tasmanian and South Australian Governments, as well as possible matching from industry, totals $12.0 million over five years for new forestry research through the National Institute for Forest Innovation. 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 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 (trading as AgriFutures) 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, has provided 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.

Export and Regional Wine Support Package

The Export and Regional Wine Support Package will provide Wine Australia 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.

The package includes four distinct programs:

      • investment for marketing campaigns in the United States and China ($32.0 million)
      • building the capability and capacity of grape and wine businesses to capture export and tourism opportunities, including a wine exports grants scheme for current and new exporters to China and the United States ($3.0 million)
      • state-based and competitive grants to develop exciting wine tourism experiences and attract international tourists ($10 million)
      • transforming cider businesses by building knowledge of potential export markets and developing improved understanding for accessing these markets ($0.5 million).
      • Wine Australia was provided with $4.0 million to administer the package.

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 Program

The Rural Research and Development for Profit Program 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 $114.7 million has been provided to date, matched by almost $170.0 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, $52.2 million for 17 projects under round two and $35.8 million for seven projects under round three. Round four is expected to open for applications in 2018.

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 2018-19. 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 2018-19, 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 each of 2016-17 and 2017-18. The scheme offered two types of loans in 2016-17, which are also available in 2017-18:

      • 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 10 years. Loan amounts are limited to a maximum of $1.0 million with conditions applying.

In 2017-18, the Australian Government extended the eligibility of the Farm Business Concessional Loans Scheme to include Business Improvement Concessional Loans. Business Improvement Concessional Loans are available to assist eligible Farm Household Allowance recipients who have, or will have exhausted their 1,095-days of entitlement on or before 30 June 2018 to continue to improve their farm businesses and become financially self-reliant. These loans are available for debt restructuring purposes only.

The Farm Business Concessional Loans Scheme will close for applications on 30 June 2018.

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 for the Rural Financial Counselling Service, which is $14.7 million in 2017-18.

The Rural Financial Counselling Service provides free 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 (APVMA)

The Australian Government is providing $25.6 million over six years, from 2016-17 to relocate the APVMA from Canberra to Armidale, New South Wales. This measure will support the establishment of a Centre of Agricultural Excellence in Armidale, with the APVMA 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 APVMA 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 APVMA 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 has conducted extensive consultation to inform the development of reforms and will continue to engage with stakeholders to identify longer-term reform opportunities. These will seek to provide a more modern, responsive and flexible regulatory environment that better aligns regulatory effort with risk.

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Operational Efficiency) Bill 2017 was introduced to the Australian Parliament in 2017,  to support the APVMA’s operational efficiency, reduce unnecessary regulation, clarify ambiguities and remove redundant provisions.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is developing further amendments to primary legislation and regulations in consultation with the APVMA, industry and others. These amendments are expected to precede a comprehensive review of the agricultural and veterinary chemicals legislative framework.

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

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 the best returns in export markets. 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
      • influencing international agricultural policies, management strategies, protocols and standards so that Australian exports are not disadvantaged in world markets.

National Carp Control Plan

Carp are the worst freshwater aquatic pest in south-east 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 is providing $15.0 million over three years from 2016-17 to support the development of the National Carp Control Plan for the potential  release of the carp virus as a biological control agent for common carp. This funding will deliver the scientific research, operational planning, community engagement and communications activities. The aim is to deliver a plan that delivers maximum impact on carp populations with minimum disruption to industries, communities and the environment for government consideration.

The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation is leading the development of the National Carp Control Plan, working in conjunction with governments and other stakeholders. Should a decision be made to proceed, successful implementation of the 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. This will be a matter for consideration by all jurisdictions.

National Partnership on South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program

This program supports Murray-Darling Basin water reforms by contributing to a healthy working river system, strong communities and sustainable food and fibre production, while providing certainty for affected communities and water users.

The Australian Government is providing $120.0 million over six years from 2013-14 to deliver a grants program to improve the productivity of South Australia’s irrigation industries.

National Partnership for Mechanical Fuel Load Reduction Trials

This program of trials are investigating whether there are operational and economic advantages in the mechanical removal of fuels or thinning of forests in addition to, or as an alternative to, planned burning.

The trials are targeting peri-urban areas where smoke and air quality issues impact on the ability to undertake planned burning and also on areas with specific conservation values where use of fire may not be appropriate.

The Australian Government is providing $1.5 million for the trials. The trials will be completed by end June 2019, following delayed burns resulting from dangerous fire weather.

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, and an $8.0 million investment for the Interim Great Artesian Basin Infrastructure Investment Program.

All Murray-Darling Basin state governments have agreed to arrangements that allow for 650 gigalitres of Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustments to be achieved through supply measure projects which offset the need for water to be acquired.  An amendment has been made to the Basin Plan to give effect to this agreement. The amendment is now law but is subject to disallowance in Parliament. The Australian Government is committed to delivering the Basin Plan to provide a healthy river system and provide certainty to communities and farmers, and will continue on the Council of Australian Governments agreed pathway to implement the Basin Plan in full by 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 December 2017, 2,106.4 gigalitres of surface water has been recovered toward the target specified in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.  Of this, 1,224.0 gigalitres contributes toward the 1,500 gigalitre limit. 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.

Water for the Environment Special Account

The Australia Government is providing a special appropriation of $1.775 billion through the Water for the Environment Special Account, including $1.575 billion over a 10 year period from 2014-15 to 2023-24 for efficiency measure projects to deliver 450 gigalitres of additional environmental water under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The additional water can only be recovered in ways that ensure socio-economic outcomes for Basin communities are maintained or improved. A pilot project is currently underway in South Australia. Funding of $200.0 million has been allocated for easing or removing constraints on the ability to deliver environmental water to the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin. Basin state governments have been provided with funding to develop business cases for constraints measure projects being implemented as part of the Sustainable Diversion Limit adjustment mechanism.

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