The Government has allocated $420.3 million in the 2010‑11 Budget for Exceptional Circumstances (EC) measures—including EC Relief Payments and the EC Interest Rate Subsidy—for farmers and small businesses dealing with the current drought. This support is demand-driven and follows a dramatic drop in the percentage of agricultural land which is Exceptional Circumstances-declared, from 55.9 per cent in May 2008 to 28.9 per cent in May 2010.
The Government has announced a further 12-month extension of the $20,000 off‑farm salary and wages exemption for EC Relief Payments, the $750,000 off-farm asset exemption for the EC Interest Rate Subsidy and EC assistance for small businesses. The extension of these measures will help to ensure that farmers and small businesses in need are assisted.
In addition, the Government continues to support farmers through $18 million for professional advice and planning grants in 2010‑11. A range of further drought support programs providing mental health support, financial information and other services have also been extended to 30 June 2011.
The Government is providing $24.8 million for re-establishment grants and training grants in 2010‑11. Eligible primary producers may access re-establishment grants of up to $150,000, as well as training assistance worth up to $10,000 and a further $10,000 to help with relocation expenses and to access job‑seeking services after they have sold the farm. Transitional Income Support (for up to 12 months at the Newstart Allowance rate) is available to eligible producers until 30 June 2011, to help with daily living expenses, including keeping food on the table. Eligible producers may access a maximum of 12 months of adjustment support.
Drought policy improvement
Following the three reports commissioned for the National Review of Drought Policy, the Government will conduct a pilot of drought policy reform measures in a region of Western Australia for 12 months from 1 July 2010. A variety of measures will be available, including assistance for farm business planning, on‑farm projects and capacity building, community activities, and support for farm households and communities. The pilot will be reviewed in 2011 as the Government considers the final national drought policy reform. The Australian Government has allocated $17.9 million in 2010‑11 to the pilot. The Western Australian Government has committed $5 million.
The Australian Government continues to invest in Landcare. This includes $33.6 million over four years to support the National Landcare Facilitators Initiative. This initiative will fund up to 56 Landcare facilitator positions across Australia to work with and support local community and Landcare groups.
In 2009‑10 the Government funded 56 Landcare projects totalling $26 million over four years under the Caring for our Country business plan and 190 Landcare community-based environmental and sustainable agriculture projects worth around $3.4 million under the Caring for our Country Community Action Grants program.
The Government has re-established the Australian Landcare Council and hosted 600 delegates at the successful 2010 National Landcare Forum in Adelaide. It is supporting the development of the Australian Framework for Landcare—a community strategy for the next decade of Landcare. The Government also continues to fund the National Landcare Facilitator position and in 2010‑11 is providing over $15 million to fund sustainable farm practices and on-ground action, through Community Action Grants and the Caring for our Country business plan.
The Government allocated $26.5 million from 2008‑09 to 2011—12 to boost training opportunities for primary producers and enable industry, farming groups and natural resource management groups to develop strategies to adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change. Demand for the FarmReady Reimbursement Grants is strong: over 11, 200 pre-approval applications were received and over 7,300 reimbursements were paid in the first nine months of the financial year, to the end of March 2010. In January 2010, the Government agreed to the second round of FarmReady industry grants, committing $2.5 million for 18 projects. In addition, two further projects that target people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds will be funded under the Community Networks and Capacity Building activities.
Community Networks and Capacity Building
The four-year Community Networks and Capacity Building component of Australia's Farming Future began in 2008‑09. It targets people traditionally underrepresented or unrecognised in their contribution to primary industries. In March 2010, the Government agreed to the second round of the Recognising Women Farmers grants and the Next Gen Farmers grants, providing $1.5 million for 33 projects.
The Government will also provide between $146,000 and $150,000 per year (GST exclusive) for up to nine candidates to attend the Australian Rural Leadership Program from 2010 to 2012.
Rural Research and Development
The ten-member, independent, skills-based Rural Research and Development Council has met regularly since it was established by the Australian Government in February 2009, delivering on an election commitment. The council's initial task is to develop a national strategic investment plan to strengthen rural research and development through improved multi-sector coordination, prioritisation of investment and performance reporting.
In December 2009, the Government announced the Productivity Commission would conduct an inquiry into rural research and development corporations. The Productivity Commission will have a final report to Government in February 2011. The inquiry will include an examination of the appropriateness of current funding arrangements, and the scope for improving the rural R&D corporation model.
Biosecurity and quarantine
The Government continues to make progress in its response to the reforms recommended by the independent review of Australia's quarantine and biosecurity arrangements. Trials have been conducted at the border to inform development of a more comprehensive, risk-based intervention strategy; the Biosecurity Advisory Council has been established and an interim Inspector General of Biosecurity was appointed. Drafting of detailed new biosecurity legislation continues and negotiations with states and territories on an intergovernmental agreement on biosecurity are nearing completion.
Funding for biosecurity reform in this year's budget includes $32.5 million to fund various measures, including the development and trial of a new mode of operation comprising risk-based intervention, improved governance arrangements, continued development of the new legislation and finalisation and implementation of an intergovernmental agreement on biosecurity.
Additionally, funding will be provided through the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to continue core quarantine border control services ($136.7 million), including related pre- and post-border activities such as the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy. A further $127.9 million will be provided through the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.
The Government is also working to deliver the largest reforms to export certification services in a generation, with strong support from the red meat, dairy, grain, fish, horticulture and live export industry sectors. The $127.4 million industry reform package will cut red tape by updating IT systems, which will help to improve market access and underpin regional jobs. The investment will help to ensure Australia remains a world leader in export certification systems. An initial $75.7 million will be allocated in 2010‑11.
The Government is committed in 2010‑11 to the next stage of the biosecurity reforms to help deliver a modern and rigorous biosecurity system.
The Government recognises the need for the Australian and international community to address global food security. We are working to meet the challenges by boosting research and development, helping to remove barriers to global trade and driving productivity along the food production chain.
The Government will continue to promote Australia's important long-term food productivity while building agricultural capacity in developing countries. Concluding the Doha Round of trade negotiations will support global food security by reducing distortions to global food markets.
National Fruit Fly Strategy
Key elements of the National Fruit Fly Strategy are being implemented under the Government's Quarantine Research and Preparedness Plan. To date, $4 million has been invested in activities that contribute to implementation of the strategy, plant pest diagnostic tools and guidelines for biosecurity planning. The balance of the commitment will be used to complete these initiatives by 2011.
Climate Change Research Program
The Climate Change Research Program is helping primary producers adapt to climate change, particularly in the areas of soil carbon, biochar, nitrous oxide and livestock emissions; and on-farm demonstrations to the farming community of research outputs.
The Government's $46.2 million commitment has leveraged over $100 million from partners — including state government, industry and research organisations—for joint projects.
The Government's reformed bulk wheat export marketing system introduced on 1 July 2008 is operating effectively. In the 2008‑09 marketing year, 17 companies shipped 12.2 million tonnes of bulk wheat to 41 countries. Twenty-nine companies are accredited to export wheat in bulk. Access undertakings have been agreed between the ACCC and the three companies CBH Ltd, GrainCorp Operations Ltd and AusBulk Ltd.
The Productivity Commission will review the system to ensure it is working as effectively as possible. Its final report is due by 1 July 2010. In 2010‑11, under the transitional assistance package, $1.4 million will be provided for the collection of market information by ABS/ABARE and for wheat export technical market support grants.
Initiatives for Rural Food Producers
Regional food programs worth $40 million over four years began in 2008‑09. The programs are designed to promote modern, competitive food production industries in Australia. The Regional Food Producers Innovation and Productivity Program funds projects to boost the productivity of Australia's food industry.
The Promoting Australian Produce Program helps all agricultural sectors, including the food industry, develop the capacity to better market their produce to both traditional domestic markets and new export markets.
The Promoting Australian Produce (Major Events) Program is open to all agricultural sectors, including food, to stage major national events that facilitate exchanging information. This will boost productivity through improved efficiency along the value chain and through innovation and the adoption of new technologies and management practices, as well as promote Australian produce at home and overseas.
The Government continues to deliver on its election commitment to support sustainable forest industries. Under the Forest Industries Development Fund, more than $7 million in grants has been allocated to projects that add value to our forest resources, support regional jobs, and boost the industry's international competitiveness. In addition, $6.3 million has been allocated to research that identifies and addresses major knowledge gaps about the impacts of climate change on forests and forestry.
ForestWorks, the new industry skills council, is helping to train skilled forestry workers. In addition, an industry skills database is expected to be delivered in July 2010.
Work continues with regional governments and industries to address issues associated with the illegal harvesting of timber and to develop a policy framework to deliver on the government's election commitment.
Australia and Indonesia have further strengthened their commitment to combat illegal logging, with an agreement to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to help secure the sustainable use of forest resources. This agreement builds on work already achieved to establish formal MOU agreements with China and Papua New Guinea to tackle the problem.
National Weeds and Productivity Research Program
The next round of the Government's $15.3 million National Weeds and Productivity Research program is expected to open for applications in the second half of 2010. Over three years, $12.2 million will be provided to fund new weeds research projects to reduce the impact and presence of invasive plants on agriculture, forestry and associated biodiversity, while 39 weed research projects from the first research call, worth $3.6 million dollars, will be completed in June 2010. The Government also committed $300,000 for research into fireweed control, to be completed by June 2012.
Southern Ocean Maritime Patrol and Response
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) will continue its enforcement activities to prevent and deter illegal foreign fishing in conjunction with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service program Southern Ocean Maritime Patrol and Response.
Pacific Islands Forum
At the Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting in August 2009, the Prime Minister committed to Australia playing a lead role in negotiating and implementing arrangements for securing the region's valuable fishing stocks. The Government is delivering on this with a three-year, $2.4 million program aimed at settling legal arrangements that allow countries in the region to share data and more effectively cooperate in fisheries enforcement activities. This process will begin with a meeting of Pacific Island Forum fisheries and law enforcement/justice ministers, to be hosted in Canberra by the Australian Government.
Gippsland Lakes and Lakes Entrance
The Government is delivering on its $11 million commitment to improve commercial fishing industry infrastructure and water quality, and flood mitigation in the Gippsland Lakes region. The new ice works at the Lakes Entrance Fishermen's Cooperative is complete, and construction of jetty and foreshore facilities at Cunninghame Arm Quay and the deepwater wharf at Bullock Island is well advanced.
Recreational fishing industry development
In 2008, the Government announced $2 million over three years to review the 1994 national Recreational Fishing Policy and to develop and implement a new Recreational Fishing Industry Development Strategy. The Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee was established to advise on the strategy and has prepared and released a discussion paper for comment.
Funding of $500,000 has been allocated to help scope and implement a coordinated national data collection project for recreational fishing in Australia. The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation will coordinate the project and seek co‑investment from state and territory governments and industry organisations. The remaining funding will go to activities consistent with the Recreational Fishing Industry Development Strategy when it is finalised.
Further information about these and other agriculture, fisheries and forestry initiatives relating to rural and regional Australia is available at www.daff.gov.au.
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