Victorian Farmers Mixed Reaction to State’s Agriculture Budget

November 25, 2020 Updated: November 25, 2020

The Victorian government’s 2020/21 budget shows significant investment in innovation, technology and research for the agriculture sector, providing support for an industry which has endured bushfires, the CCP virus pandemic, and trade disruptions from China.

David Jochinke, the Victorian Farmers Federation president, said in a media release that the big-spending budget is a “mixed-bag” with strong long term support in some areas, and not enough in others such as crucial Murray Basin Rail project.

Jochinke said he welcomed the training and research stimulus with $2 billion promised through the Breakthrough Victoria Fund and the Agricultural College Modernisation Program with the Andrews’ government also spending an additional $65 million on modernisation and education.

He highlighted, “It’s vital we educate and equip the next generation of farmers with the skills and opportunities to support our growing agricultural industry.”

A strong focus to upskill the next generation of farmers will see a $50 million investment in improving facilities at agriculture colleges for young Victorians.

The Breakthrough fund drives the states 10-year ambition to make it a global leader in research and technology, including agri-food, clean energy and digital technology sectors.

As part of long term strategy, the government has tabled an additional $65 million to support farmers grow in the global market. Among this package includes Agriculture Technologies to improve farming methods and efficiency, as well as help to reduce energy costs.

Another “big winner” according to Jochinke was the substantial spending to tackle poor internet in the regional areas. There will be $300 million used to address regional telecommunication blackspots, a step in the right direction he said.

“The next step will be to expand this investment state-wide to ensure universal access to critical telecommunication and infrastructure capable of delivering for regional Victorians.”

Epoch Times Photo
The view from Porcupine lookout is seen overlooking rural land in north-west New South Wales on May 4, 2020, in Gunnedah, Australia. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Farmers Concerned About Future Of Murray Basin Rail Project

The Victorian government announced as part of its infrastructure budget, $48.8 million towards the Murray Basin Rail Project. But Jochinke says this as a massive shortfall to fully funding the project which needs $244 million.

Argued to be a significant infrastructure venture by the state government farmers were left “extremely disappointed” it didn’t get the funding it needed.

The joint state and federal government-funded project was stopped in 2019 when funding ran dry, leaving rail upgrades incomplete.

“We’re still no clearer on whether the incredibly important Murray Basin Rail Project will be finished as originally planned back in 2016,” he said.

“At a time when regional Victoria is crying out for investment to help lift us out of recession, the fact is billions are being spent on metropolitan rail projects, while the Murray Basin Rail Project enters its fifth year of uncertainty.”

Victorian Leader of the Nationals, Peter Walsh also weighed in, blasting the government for their massive borrowing and city-focused budget announced on Tuesday. Shadow Agriculture Minister, Walsh has said he is incredibly disappointed to see no further investment in the Murray River Basin.

“Farmers in the state’s north-west won’t see the transformational Murray Basin Rail Project completed in full under Labor and will instead be left off worse than before the project started with a cheap mess of broad and standard gauge lines,” Walsh said, in a media release noting the recording borrowings in other areas will leave large debts for the future generation.

The Victorian farming industry has faced a turbulent year facing bushfires and restrictions in response to the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as coronavirus, from China. Further trade disruptions to barley, wine and beef by the CCP have also hindered recovery.

The Victorian government budget will send the state into a huge debt that will take decades to pay off, admitted the state Treasurer Tim Pallas. The deficit is expected to triple to $154.8 billion in 2023/24, which is about 28.9 percent of gross state product.

“There’s no doubt this (repaying the debt) will take a considerable period of time,” Pallas told ABC Radio National. “It will be a long-term strategy that will have to be addressed.”