Agriculture and Water Resources

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 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.

The Government continues to build new international markets for our agricultural producers and exporters. Since 2013, the value of agricultural exports has increased from $41.0 billion in 2012-13 to a peak of $64.0 billion in 2017-18. While drought will reduce this somewhat, the trend is for continuing strong growth based on increasing exports.

Since 2013, Australia has completed Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with 22 countries, including China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, as well as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus. These agreements have added substantially to the export options for the agriculture sector and provide a basis for strong, long-term growth in agricultural production and exports. This in turn supports healthy regional communities and creates new job opportunities in those communities.

The department plays a key role in facilitating export growth and assists food and fibre exporters take full advantage of the opportunities created through FTAs that Australia now has with diverse markets across the globe. A key priority for the department in the coming years is the Modernising Agricultural Trade initiative, which will further boost export opportunities for the agriculture sector and generate jobs in regional Australia.

The portfolio also manages 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 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 Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio has a strong presence in regional Australia. As at 31 December 2018, the portfolio employed 5,152 staff under the Public Service Act 1999 in the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Of this total 2,458 staff (47.7 per cent) were employed in Canberra, central Melbourne and central Sydney, 2,141 staff (41.5 per cent) in other capital cities and 535 (10.4 per cent) in regional areas. These officers undertake a range of functions in support of agricultural industries, including biosecurity, fisheries management, plant and animal pest and disease monitoring and surveillance.

Other agencies in the portfolio employ staff under their own legislation and most have staff in locations other than capital cities. The portfolio’s footprint includes staff locations such as Orange, Narrabri, Wagga Wagga, Goondiwindi, Murray Bridge, Armidale and Norfolk, Christmas and Thursday Islands.

The portfolio’s regional footprint continues to grow with the Government’s announcement that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will increase its regional workforce by decentralising a further 76 positions to locations outside of Canberra. This initiative will mean that more than 100 positions at the Authority will be located in regional centres including Mildura, Murray Bridge, Goondiwindi and Griffith. This announcement follows the establishment of the Regional Investment Corporation in Orange and the ongoing transition of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale. These changes are an important element of the Government’s plan to better support regional Australia by relocating agencies outside of the capital cities so they are closer to the communities they serve.

New Initiatives

Agricultural Stewardship Program

The Government will invest $34.0 million over four years from 2019-20 in a new Agricultural Stewardship Program. The Program will deliver a shared vision of on-farm agricultural practices to support biodiversity and other co-benefits, including to agricultural productivity and carbon sequestration.

Under the Program, a new initiative of $30.0 million over four years will support a trial of incentive payments for projects on-farm to improve biodiversity. Informed by consultation, robust methodology will be developed to quantify biodiversity and other benefits. Monitoring and evaluation of outcomes will be published, raising industry and community awareness of benefits and challenges in adopting changed practices.

The program also includes $4.0 million over three years, commencing in 2019-20, to scope and trial an industry-led biodiversity certification scheme. The scheme will allow consumers to recognise where farmers have demonstrated biodiversity stewardship in on-farm practices, supporting consumer choice and access to market opportunities.

Australia’s Indo-Pacific Engagement—Enhanced Engagement in Asia

The Government is investing $9.5 million over four years, starting in 2019-20, to strengthen cooperation between Australia and China on agricultural trade and food safety regulation. This work will support Australian farmers and deepen Australia’s long-term engagement with our largest market for agricultural, food, fisheries and forestry exports.

This program is part of a broader package of initiatives, led by the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio, to strengthen Australia’s economic and cultural engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, including with China. Other initiatives were announced by the Government in the 2018-19 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

Beef Australia 2021

The Government is committing $3.9 million over three years, starting in 2019-20, to support the Beef Australia event in May 2021. 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 2018 attracted over 100,000 visitors including over 1,200 international visitors from 43 countries.

Dairy Code of Conduct

In 2017-18 the dairy industry’s farm-gate production was worth $4.3 billion and over 42,000 people are directly employed on dairy farms and by dairy companies within Australia. For regional Australia, the dairy industry is a key employer and contributor to regional economies and towns.

The Government has committed $8.7 million over eleven years to introduce a mandatory code of conduct for the dairy industry. The code will assist to shift the balance in bargaining power towards dairy farmers by setting enforceable minimum standards of conduct for business practices between farmers and dairy processors. The code will improve transparency in transactions in the industry by setting out the key rights and obligations of each party, which will help to build confidence in the dairy industry. Implementation and enforcement of the code will be the responsibility of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Enhancing Australia’s Agricultural Trade

The Government will invest $29.4 million over four years, commencing in 2019-20, in a further package of measures that will continue to strengthen Australia’s agricultural export trade. The package complements earlier measures announced in the 2018-19 Budget and 2018-19 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

The package comprises:

  • $11.4 million over four years to support the further development of an internationally competitive and profitable horticulture sector by continuing work on horticulture market access and improving access to plant genetics and propagative material for Australian growers to promote competitiveness and sustainability;
  • $6.8 million to continue the Agricultural Trade and Market Access Cooperation (ATMAC) program from the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper for a further four years from 2019-20. ATMAC has successfully funded industry for cooperation projects that break down technical barriers to trade for exports;
  • $6.1 million to extend the Package Assisting Small Exporters to 2020 to assist eligible small exporters to improve their market access. This funding builds on the Government’s 2013 election commitment that provided $15.0 million over four years for projects to improve market access for small exporters.
  • $5.1 million over four years to work with industry and importing countries to minimise the impact of non-tariff measures (NTMs) that can act as a barrier to achieving market access into some high-value export markets. The measure will also deliver up to 11 sector-specific reports to identify and prioritise NTMs that restrict market access or form barriers to the export trade.

Murray Darling Basin Authority—Decentralisation

The Government has committed to decentralise operations of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Further regionalisation is an opportunity for the Authority to strengthen its links with communities across the Murray-Darling Basin which, in turn, will improve Basin Plan implementation and management of the Basin. This initiative will decentralise a further 76 positions to locations outside of Canberra, resulting in more than 100 positions being located at regional offices in Albury-Wodonga, Goondiwindi, Griffith, Mildura and Murray Bridge.

National Agricultural Workforce Strategy

The Government will invest $1.9 million over four years, beginning in 2019-20, to develop a National Agricultural Workforce Strategy.

National Drought Map and Indicators

The Government is providing $4.2 million over four years from 2019-20 to maintain a National Drought Map that brings together information on drought conditions and support measures across multiple agencies and tiers of government. The National Drought Map is an online spatial resource and to inform the Government’s ongoing policy response to drought.

National Leadership for Agricultural Innovation

The Government is committing $2.9 million over three years, starting in 2019-20, to establish an advisory panel to drive national leadership of agricultural innovation and to better promote transformational, cross-commodity research and development to boost productivity and support long-term jobs in the agriculture sector.

North Queensland Flood Recovery

The Government has committed to assisting flood affected farmers in north Queensland get back on their feet. The Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio will deliver:

  • $300 million for two grants programs for restocking, replanting and for rebuilding on-farm infrastructure, where farmers can access up to $400,000 to rebuild;
  • New loan products for flood affected farm businesses through the Regional Investment Corporation; and
  • $5 million over five years as part of a $10 million joint program with the Queensland Government to manage the spread of the damaging weed prickly acacia following the floods.

The Government is also providing a broad range of other support and assistance to communities affected by the floods in north Queensland. Other initiatives, including the establishment of the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency, are listed in relevant chapters of this document.

Assistance for Farmers and Farm Communities in Drought

In 2018-19 the Government provided significant new assistance and improvements to existing support for farmers experiencing drought conditions. This support includes:

  • committing $3.9 billion to the Future Drought Fund with the fund to grow to $5 billion over next decade to support drought resilience projects;
  • establishing a $50.0 million On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme;
  • changes to the Farm Household Allowance to make it more accessible;
  • a $5.0 million increase in funding for the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) program in 2018-19;
  • piloting two Farm Liaison Officers to connect farmers to assistance;
  • a further $15.0 million for wild dog fencing and other pest and weed management activities in drought-affected areas;
  • an additional $36.9 million from 2019-20 over six years to implement a range of immediate and long-term measures to enhance long-term water security for GAB water users;
  • increased Regional Investment Corporation farm business loans from $1.0 million to $2.0 million, with up to $500 million available each year;
  • an online farm hub hosted by the National Farmers’ Federation to provide a single trusted point of access to information and services;
  • in addition to Rural Bank offering Farm Management Deposits (FMD) offset accounts, five other major agribusiness banks now offer credit adjustments for eligible customers with FMDs and rural loans.

The Government is also providing a broad range of other support and assistance to communities affected by ongoing drought conditions in many regional areas across Australia, including additional drought support payments, an expanded Drought Communities Program, immediate depreciation for primary producers of the cost of fodder storage assets and better weather and climate information to assist with long-term farm planning. Other initiatives are listed in relevant chapters of this document.

Changes to the Seasonal Worker Program

In addition to the changes to the Seasonal Worker Program to make it easier for the agriculture industry to access the workers it needs, from 2018-19 the Australian Government will provide $1.5 million over four years to expand the delivery of the Fair Farms Initiative. This initiative will mitigate risks of worker exploitation by providing increased access to information on fair employment practices for the horticultural industry.

Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports

The Australian Government is providing $2.3 million over five years for the position of Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports to promote continual improvements in the regulatory practice, performance and culture of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as the regulator of live animal exports.

The Australian community must have confidence in the independent regulation of the live export industry and certainty that the regulator will undertake its duties competently and with diligence. Regional economies in the pastoral zone will receive a positive impact from the on-going economic activity generated by ongoing livestock exports, enabled by improved community confidence.

Modernising Agricultural Trade

Agricultural exports are a major contributor to Australia’s economic growth. To keep pace in a highly competitive international trade environment, the Government is investing $32.4 million over four years from 2018-19 over in new initiatives to support exporters and modernise our export systems.

Information and support for farmers to help with the export process will improve the accuracy and accessibility of information provided to farmers and exporters on importing country requirements. This will help farmers to seize the export opportunities that are available through new free trade agreements and market access improvements.

The package also protects Australia’s clean, green brand through activities to provide assurance to importing markets, including development of streamlined and improved third party assurance arrangements that are more efficient, have a lighter regulatory burden and lower costs to exporters and greater acceptance by our trading partners.

The department will also begin planning the development of new information technology systems to support exports with the aim of streamlining exports certification and other administrative processes.

Priorities for Australia’s Biosecurity System

The 2018-19 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook included an additional $137.8 million investment over five years to build a smarter and stronger biosecurity system to further protect Australia’s farm industries and environment. This commitment was in addition to measures announced in the 2018-19 Budget and brings the total new biosecurity investment to $313.4 million over six years from 2017-18.

This new funding supports the Government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the independent report Priorities for Australia’s biosecurity system: An independent review of the capacity of the national biosecurity system and its underpinning intergovernmental agreement.

This additional investment will deliver cutting-edge biosecurity technologies at the border and improve biosecurity data, analytics and intelligence to help protect our favourable pest and disease status. It will deliver more funding for emergency biosecurity responses and enhance our frontline defence of Australia’s 10,000 km of northern coastline. The funding will also support the inaugural Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer to drive investment in building environmental biosecurity capability and capacity in support of the national biosecurity system.

This work will protect Australia’s agricultural industries, global trade markets and our unique environment and way of life from the world’s worst pest and diseases.

Smart Fruit Fly Management

In the 2018-19 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook the Government committed to invest $15.3 million over four years, starting in 2018-19, in a nationally coordinated approach to manage fruit fly. Funding will be provided to develop and harmonise the management of fruit fly across Australia, including through conducting trials to demonstrate the effectiveness of applied techniques to manage the pest, and researching ways to prevent their spread and support their eradication.

This investment will reduce the significant impact of fruit flies, which currently cost Australian horticulture producers hundreds of millions of dollars annually in control measures and productions losses.

Australia’s horticultural production is valued at over $12.0 billion and employs 50,000 rural and regional Australians. Horticulture exports were valued at over $2.2 billion in 2016-17.

Current Initiatives

Growing Australian Agricultural Exports

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 Government is investing $51.3 million over four years, starting in 2018-19, to expand our agricultural exports and seize market access opportunities in global food chains. This initiative includes ongoing funding for five agricultural counsellor positions funded through the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, as well as six additional positions, including new posts in Mexico, Chile, and the United Kingdom. The agriculture overseas counsellor network now includes a total of 22 positions in key trade markets for Australia’s agricultural produce.

Improved Access to Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals

The Government is investing $6.3 million to extend the program to improve access to agricultural and veterinary medicines for a further two years from 2018-19. This initiative continues to support agricultural producers in gaining access to agricultural chemical technology to support farm business transformation, such as through diversification in crops and strengthens farm business growth. A lack of access for Australian farm businesses to chemical pest control technology for speciality crops and emerging commodities denies them the ability to benefit from changes in consumer preferences and growth possible through international trade. Improved access will also allow Australian trade to grow in these industries.

Indonesia-Australia Red Meat and Cattle Partnership

The 2018-19 Budget included $3.6 million from 2018-19 to extend the Indonesia-Australia Red Meat and Cattle Partnership grants program for a further five years. The Partnership was developed by the Indonesian and Australian Governments to improve the red meat and cattle sector supply chain in Indonesia and to promote a stable trade and investment climate between the two nations. The program continues to fund mutually beneficial projects for the Australia-Indonesia red meat and cattle sector and forms part of Australia’s broader long-term strategy with Indonesia.

Seasonal Agricultural Labour Demand and Supply

The Government is investing $4.7 million over four years, starting in 2018-19, to better understand seasonal agricultural labour needs and inform future policy development. The program is providing more reliable information about workforce issues in the agriculture sector, including skilled and seasonal labour that is vital for the economic dividend that agriculture can provide to Australia’s rural and regional economies.

Centre for Invasive Species Solutions

The Government is delivering on its 2016 election commitment to invest $20.0 million over five years from 2017-18 to support the work of the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

The Centre is a national collaborative research, development and extension organisation, formed to assist with the management of invasive species and the threat to our agricultural industries and unique environment. The Centre brings together government, industry and research partners to create a coordinated, collaborative and innovative set of research and extension projects. The Government’s investment in the work of the Centre is leveraging up to $70.0 million cash and in-kind support from universities, state and territory governments, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and industry partners.

Established Pest Animals and Weed Management Pipeline

The Government is investing $30.3 million over four years from 2019-20 to continue the fight against established pests and weeds and help limit their impact on our land, produce and industries. This funding builds on the investment under the Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper Management of Established Pest Animals and Weeds initiative, which concludes on 30 June 2019.

The pipeline will help combat some of Australia’s worst established pest animals and weeds by improving the way they are managed and provide Australian farmers with access to the most advanced technologies and practices to farm smarter. 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 through this initiative will support 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.

Export and Regional Wine Support Package

The Government is providing $50.0 million over four years from 2016-17 to Wine Australia to deliver the Export and Regional Wine Support Package, which includes a range of initiatives to promote Australian wine and Australian wine tourism both domestically and overseas.

The Export and Regional Wine Support Package is driving increased exports of Australian wine and takes advantage of recent free trade agreements in key markets. Wine exports totalled $2.82 billion in 2018, an increase on 10 per cent on the previous year. This included $1.14 billion worth of exports to the growing Chinese market, including Hong Kong and Macau. Exports to China grew by 18 per cent in 2018 alone, demonstrating the positive impact of the Australian Wine Made Our Way campaign, funded through the Export and Regional Wine Support Package.

The Export and Regional Wine Support Package is comprised of four distinct programs:

  • marketing campaigns in the United States and China, including Australian Wine Made Our Way;
  • capability development to help Australian wine businesses to become export and tourism ready through capability building workshops;
  • grant opportunities for small and medium wine exporters, state and regional wine and tourism associations and other wine sector stakeholders; and
  • development of a brand proposition and go-to-market strategy for the cider industry to leverage growth opportunities for this emerging sector.

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 to meet their daily household needs 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.

Farm Household Allowance is more than just a support payment. In addition to fortnightly income support payments, recipients can access up to $1,500 for an independent professional financial assessment of their business, up to $4,000 to help them to undertake activities to improve their financial self‑reliance, access to a range of income support supplements such as pharmaceutical allowance, telephone allowance, rent assistance, and remote area allowance, and the support of a dedicated case manager to help them focus on improving their financial security.

Livestock Exports Global Assurance Program

The Government is contributing $8.3 million from 2017-18 over four years to its 2016 election commitment to support the development of the Livestock Exports Global Assurance Program. This program is an assessment and certification assurance system that enables livestock exporters to meet their existing regulatory requirements under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System through a third-party in a more effective and cost-efficient way.

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 to 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 Government is investing $15.0 million over three years to determine the technical feasibility of using Cyprinid herpesvirus 3 (the carp virus) as a biological control agent for common carp, and ensure that the benefits, costs and risks are clearly understood. The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) is leading the development of the initiative through an agreement with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. FRDC is working in conjunction with governments and other stakeholders on the plan, which will conclude by December 2019. The plan will be a critical input for subsequent decisions by all governments on whether or not to proceed with release of the virus. Should a decision be made to proceed, successful implementation of the plan will provide an opportunity to improve the health of our inland waterways, bringing benefits to regional communities and water users, including farmers, recreational fishers and tourism operators.

National Forest Industries Plan

The National Forest Industries Plan was launched in September 2018 and the 2018-19 Budget included $20.0 million over four years from 2018-19 to help implement this plan. The goal is a billion new plantation trees to be planted over the coming decade.

The plan includes 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 plan and its actions 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.

National Institute for Forest Products Innovation

The Government is providing $4.0 million over five years from 2016-17 to deliver on its election commitment 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.

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. They seek to improve the returns to industry and the community from our plantation and native and forest estates consistent with their sustainable management.

National Landcare Program

The Australian Government is investing $1.1 billion over six years from 2017-18 in 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.

The Smart Farms component of Landcare, led by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, includes the following three elements:

  • Smart Farming Partnerships ($55 million over six years), which supports large, multi-year grants for projects with organisations working in partnership to develop, trial and implement new and innovative practices and tools that support uptake of sustainable agriculture practices;
  • Smart Farms Small Grants (up to $55 million over five years), which provides grants to develop and extend new tools and technologies that help farmers, fishers, foresters and regional communities increase their capacity to adopt best practice land management; and
  • Building Landcare Community and Capacity ($24 million over six years), which supports the sharing of knowledge and achievements and community leadership in adopting sustainable agricultural practices.

The Regional Land Partnerships component of Landcare is jointly delivered by the Department of the Environment and Energy and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

From July 2018, the Government is investing $450 million over five years from 2018-19 in Regional Land Partnerships to deliver national natural resource management priorities at a regional and local level, including soils, vegetation and biodiversity on-farms, and adapting to climate change and markets.

Northern Australia Rice Industry

The Government is providing $4.0 million over four years from 2016-17 to deliver on its 2016 election commitment to fund research, development and extension projects to assist the development of the rice industry in northern Australia. The project is being delivered through AgriFutures Australia and is examining varietal breeding and selection, pest and disease implications, agronomy, grower adoption and post-harvest handling issues in the region.

If the rice industry could be established on a broader scale in northern Australia, this would have economic and social benefits and would 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.

Pest and Disease Preparedness and Response Programs

The Government continues 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 on agricultural industries, health and the environment. Through the National Partnership on Pest and Disease Preparedness and Response Programs, the Government will provide up to $152.6 million over four years from 2019-20 to support nationally agreed eradication responses.

Red Imported Fire Ants Eradication Program

The Australian, State and Territory Governments are jointly investing $411.4 million over ten years from 2017-18 to eradicate Red Imported Fire Ants from south-east Queensland. The Australian Government’s is contributing $212.5 million over ten years as part of this package.

Red Imported Fire Ants are one of the world’s worst invasive species due to their devastating economic, environmental and social impacts. If these ants 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.

Regional Investment Corporation

The Government established the Regional Investment Corporation in the 2017-18 Budget to provide financial assistance to farmers and support the development of water infrastructure in regional economies and communities across Australia. The Corporation commenced operations on 1 July 2018 and is administering the Government’s farm business concessional loans and the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility (NWILF).

The RIC lends to farm businesses that are in financial need but financially viable in the long term. Its loans will help eligible farm businesses improve their long-term strength, resilience and profitability. As part of the additional response to drought in 2018, the Government doubled the amount that a farm business can borrow from the RIC from $1.0 million to $2.0 million, and increased the total amount available for these loans to $500.0 million each year.

With the announcement of the Government’s $5.0 billion Future Drought Fund, the Board of the RIC will have an additional role to provide independent expert technical advice to the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources on initiatives to enhance drought resilience, preparedness and response across Australia.

Relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA)

The Government is providing $25.6 million over six years, from 2016-17 to relocate the APVMA from Canberra, to Armidale located in 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. An additional $10.1 million over three years was committed in 2018-19 to deliver modern, digital business systems to transform the APVMA into an efficient and effective regulator in regional Australia.

The APVMA’s relocation to Armidale will support new local jobs, increase the availability of skilled labour and boost the diversity of the region’s economy.

Rural Financial Counselling Service

The Government is investing $69.5 million over four years starting in 2019-20 to continue the Rural Financial Counselling Service program.

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 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.

Rural Research and Development for Profit Program

The Rural Research and Development for Profit Program is a $156.4 million program over eight years to 2021-22. It is providing rural research and development corporations with grants for collaborative research to improve productivity and profitability at the farm-gate.

Grant funding provided to date comprises $26.7 million for 12 projects under round one, $52.2 million for 17 projects under round two, $35.8 million for seven projects under round three and $39.6 million for ten projects under round four. These funds have been matched by almost $170.0 million in cash and in-kind contributions from successful applicants and their partners, which has multiplied the impact of the projects.

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 Government will provide around $320.0 million in matching contributions to the rural research and development corporations in 2019-20. 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 a five-year strategic plan and will continue to advance their strategic goals.

While the rural research and development corporations and others in the agricultural innovation system have contributed to productivity growth over the last 30 years there are opportunities for improvement. The recently completed EY report into Australia’s rural innovation has provided a roadmap for industry, investors and the research community to ensure the agricultural innovation system is fit for the future.

Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program

The Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program (SRWUIP) 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 Government has a preference for recovering water in the Murray-Darling Basin through investment in infrastructure. The majority of the funds under the SRWUIP 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 Government for environmental use and irrigators for consumptive use, supporting increased productivity and economic activity in regional communities. Government investments outside the Murray‑Darling Basin include $201.8 million over 11 years from 2008-09 in Tasmania to support the construction of dams and backbone irrigation infrastructure, and $5.6 million investment for the Interim Great Artesian Basin Infrastructure Investment Program.

Significant progress has been made on implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Two amendments became law in 2018, reducing surface water recovery required by 30 June 2019 from 2,750 gigalitres (GL) to 2,075 GL through the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) Adjustment Mechanism supply contribution of 605 GL, and a reduction in water recovery in the northern Basin of 70 GL that was given effect through the Northern Basin Review. For the full supply contribution to be realised, at least 62 GL Long Term Average Annual Yield of efficiency measures must also be recovered by 30 June 2019. As at 30 November 2018, 2,117.7 GL of gap bridging surface water and 1.9 GL of efficiency measures has been recovered (or contracted). The final volume of water recovery required will not be known until Water Resources Plans are in place and contracted water is delivered. Groundwater recovery required in Queensland’s Upper Condamine Alluvium is also nearing completion.

Supply measure projects provide new ways to manage the Basin’s rivers, to more efficiently deliver water for Basin Plan environmental outcomes and allowing more water to be retained for consumptive use. A range of ‘toolkit measures’ refurbishment to improve environmental outcomes in the northern Basin commenced in 2018 including the establishment of the Office of the Northern Basin Commissioner and Stage 1 on the Wilcannia Weir refurbishment.

The 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.

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 (WESA), 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 (now closed for new applications) was initially run in South Australia. A Basin-wide program, the Murray-Darling Basin Water Infrastructure Program, was launched on 13 July 2018. On 14 December 2018, all Basin jurisdictions agreed to additional social and economic program criteria to guide water recovery through efficiency measure projects funded through Murray Darling Basin Water Infrastructure Program.

Funding of $200.0 million has been allocated through WESA 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.

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 eligible cellar door sales. The grant will be available through Wine Australia 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.

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