Relief Budget’s farm focus

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Ben HarveyCountryman
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There were few big-ticket, WA-specific agriculture proposals in the Budget.
Camera IconThere were few big-ticket, WA-specific agriculture proposals in the Budget. Credit: WA News

A $3.9 billion Emergency Response Fund to help farmers recover from natural disasters was the centrepiece of the Morrison Government’s pitch to the bush in Tuesday’s pre-election Budget.

“Agriculture, like the other primary industries that helped build this country, must be recognised and valued,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in his Budget speech.

“Our economic plan is about driving all industries forward, not just the new ones.”

There were few big-ticket, WA-specific agriculture proposals in the Budget, with the bulk of attention on the immediate problems being faced by the flood and drought-ravaged east coast.

As widely flagged, farmers in North Queensland devastated by recent floods will receive $232 million in aid, with a further $300 million in grants made available to those who need to “rebuild infrastructure, replace livestock and replant crops”.

“The Government is also working with banks to provide up to $1.8 billion of low-cost loans to support banks offering lower interest rates to eligible flood-affected primary producers,” the Budget noted.

While the deluges in Queensland dominated Canberra’s thinking, the Morrison Government has also kept an eye on the big dry gripping much of Australia.

The Government is attempting to drought-proof Australia by creating a Future Fund-style investment account that will pay for new water infrastructure.

The $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund is scheduled to grow to $5 billion over the next 10 years.

The Government believes it will be capable of bankrolling $100 million in new water-saving initiatives each year.

The ravages of drought will also be mitigated through $6.3 billion in assistance and concessional loans.

“Funding of $199 million is being provided to help farming families in hardship by increasing access to income support through the Farm Household Allowance,” according to the Budget.

“The Government is working with major charities to provide $35 million of cash payments and vouchers to help meet the basic needs of struggling families.

“Funding of $50 million is being provided to cover up to a quarter of farmers’ investment in on-farm water infrastructure, such as piping, tanks and troughs.”

Cashflow, the bane of many farmers, will be a little easier if the Budget passes through Federal Parliament intact after the Government widened eligibility for instant tax write-offs and increased the amount that can be immediately deducted.

The small business instant tax write-off that proved popular over the past few years will be boosted so that assets worth $30,000, up from $25,000, can be immediately deducted.

Regional access to technology and communication is targeted with $160 million to ease mobile phone black spots and $60 million to improve broadband connectivity.

This will cover projects such as developing business-grade networks to allow agricultural and horticultural precincts to use latest applications and technology, such as sensor networks, robotics and drone imagery.

More people will be able to take advantage of the perk when the eligibility is expanded to companies with turnovers of less than $50 million, up from $10 million.

National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar welcomed the extension with a caveat, saying it should be a long-term arrangement.

He said the write-off scheme had been prized by farmers looking to improve productivity. “It would be great to see this locked in for the longer term but farmers will be pleased to see the 12-month extension nonetheless,” Mr Mahar said.

The tax deduction was first introduced in Joe Hockey’s 2015 Budget with a cap of $20,000.

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