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The Budget 2010 attended the recent Rural Press Club lunch at the elegant Stamford Plaza on May 11th. The guest speaker was Tony Burke MP, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The Minister gave a short speech on the 2010 Budget and focused on the effect this budget on agriculture. This article provides a brief summary of what the Minister had to say at this address.

Mr Burke began his address by emphasising how proud he is of the outcome of this budget, stressing that he worked hard for the results.

Mr Burke was slightly pressed for time due to the early morning fog around Brisbane city which had delayed his flight that morning. He only had time to mention briefly the increase in funding for the national broadband plan for rural communities, for rural health and an increase of $1 billion investment in ARTC infrastructure and rail.

Mr Burke chose to focus on three main issues which I will summarize briefly. Those areas were; Landcare, Bio-security and Drought Reform

Mr Burke spoke first on Landcare. He reassured the audience that there would be no 20-25% drop in financial commitments to Landcare as was reported prior to the budget being announced. He pointed out that in this budget; investment has actually increased in this area. It has increased form 35.1million in 2009 to 36.2 million in 2010 and is expected to be 39.1million in 2011. The minister emphasized the increased and continued investment and importance placed on Landcare by the government.

The second issue addressed by Minister Burke was Bio-security. He stressed a need for continuum in this area. The government has just been the gatekeeper in the past, minding the gate with no concept of continuum, what can be done, before after and during the process. The responsibility can not just fall to individual states. However to implement a continuum policy, there needs to be cooperation from the states. While this budget sees an investment of $20million in Bio-security, Minister Burke acknowledged that there is a need for more legal and monetary power. However, Mr Burke is committed to help introduce legislation to aid bio-security measures.

The main focus of the Minister’s speech was on his new initiative for drought reform. He likened this area to the metaphor of his plane trying to land in the Brisbane fog that morning. You want to land but when you approach, there is an obstacle so you have to circle again and again before finding the right approach to land. The Minister’s approach to trying to land an effective drought reform is to try and implement a change in perspective from crisis management to risk management. Under previous schemes, there has been a level of assistance that allows for a high level of debt. Funding kicks in when an Exceptional Circumstance is declared, this policy is based on the mentality that you wait for a crisis and then help rather then investing when times are good which in turn helps minimise the risks in tough times. The Minister is introducing a pilot program in WA to trial his risk management approach. Minister Burke was adamant that a bi partisan approach should be taken, this issue should go above and beyond politics, such is the seriousness of its nature. This is also reflected in the combination with the WA Liberal Government for this pilot.

The pilot has many aspects to it, primarily being a risk focused approach. It takes into account aspects of household support and it ensures that lines on the map no longer matter. There will be no more cases of neighbours qualifying for funding while others lose out due to the geographical make up of the land. Minister Burke wants to invest when times are good and invest across the board. This pilot will provide assistance to those developing strategic plans for their farms and provide $60,000 over 4 years as funding. These strategic plans are developed by the farmer and the Government will not tell them what to do but provide advice if wanted. Those who may not have been eligible for EC before can now achieve funding for their farming enterprises. This pilot also focuses on the towns and communities as hardship affects business and towns just as much. Shires will have to authority to develop resilience plans and the Government will provide up to $300K funding based on the quality of these plans. Other elements of the pilot include counselling for whole families during times of hardship and a program to help connect people online, especially the young.

Minister Burke stressed that his is not a perfect package but a pathway forward. The pilot will enable them to iron out issues and move from crisis to risk management. The minister also reiterated that the transitions and ECs already in place will continue to exist.

This article provides a summary on what Minister Burke had to say at this breakfast address. More information about the Budget and its effects on rural communities, funding details and information on the WA pilot can be found online

Anne Cunningham
Australian Account Manager