The National Irrigators’ Council (NIC) has acknowledged the release of the Federal Budget,
noting it leaves open a number of unanswered questions particularly on food security, cost of
living and water management.
NIC CEO Isaac Jeffrey said: “The Federal Budget listed over $872 million of savings from
abandoned water infrastructure projects, while pausing an additional $19.1 million
earmarked for Wyangala Dam Wall Raising and the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme.
“Water infrastructure is vital to ensure we drought-proof our water and food production
systems, as best we can, to make sure we can grow produce to feed and clothe Australia
and our trading partners, and keep the taps running for drinking water and hygiene. Water
infrastructure also helps store and deliver water for the environment and keep the rivers
flowing in dry times. Cancelling these projects is short-sighted and risks our future food and
water security.
“The Budget notes savings from these projects will be ‘redirected to fund other Government
priorities’. It’s reasonable to ask what priorities could be more important that future-proofing
our water and food security?
“NIC welcomes the $197 million commitment to National Water Grid projects, but is sceptical
of the need for $70.9 million to increase resources of the Authority, particularly with its
seemingly reduced workload. That money should instead be funding real projects and
delivering real results – not more bureaucrats.
“The Budget fails to shed any additional light on the secret funds allocated in October to
water buybacks, which are rumoured to come with a multibillion dollar price tag for the
Budget and an even greater cost to jobs, businesses, food security, cost of living, our regions
and trade. It is again reasonable to ask how much is allocated to buybacks and what
alternate options the Government is considering?
“On paper the Budget seems to deliver on biosecurity with a $1 billion commitment, but it’s
farmers who will be slugged with the bill. While importers will pay a little more, it’s not enough.
They are the ones creating the risks to our economy and food production, and they should
be paying, not farmers. If buybacks go ahead and farms close, we will be forced to rely on
more imports and who will the Government get to pay then?
“Over $103 million has been allocated to the Murray-Darling Basin Review, which is likely to
be spent on the almost 100 new staff going to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. NIC
welcomes the renewed focus on science and urges the MDBA to ensure it considers the
socio-economic science when evaluating the Plan, reviewing its impact and preparing for its
future. NIC also encourages MDBA to allocate sufficient resources to communications and
genuine consultation.
“$44.9 million has been put aside for the Department to provide advice and work with the
States and Territories and affected communities. There’s no further detail, but it looks like
more staff for DCCEEW to handle water issues and hopefully a few people who can manage
genuine consultation.
“The Government has failed to deliver anything substantial to address worker shortages. Yet
another review is underway, but that process will take months and will certainly not help
anyone looking for staff in the short to medium term.
“Another disappointing feature of the Budget is the reduction in the Instant Asset Write Off
value to $20,000. Not many assets can be bought for less than $20,000 for use on farms. NIC
also remains concerned at the inadequate funding allocated to regional roads, especially
after the significant flooding events which left our roads in appalling and dangerous
conditions. This concern extends to the 90 day review of the infrastructure pipeline which has
paused or risks the completion of regional road and rail projects, which are vital to support
regional communities, industry and trade.
“NIC welcomes the $158 million for low emission and sustainable agriculture production
transition; $76 million for sustainable agriculture facilitators; $36 million for soil health; $38
million for ABARES to monitor climate impacts; $8 million for emergency shelter, water and
power systems; $236 million for the flood gauge network.
“Ultimately, the Budget raises more questions than it answers for regional businesses and our
food and fibre producers. It was a missed opportunity to deliver real outcomes, increase
transparency and acknowledge the vital contribution our regions make to our economy,
trade and food security.”
Ends. Media Contact: Isaac Jeffrey 0407 083 890