Labor lays out commitment to farmers

Liv Casben |

Labor leader Anthony Albanese will set up a $500 million fund to encourage investment in the farm sector and earmark $656 million for a regional telecommunications package if he wins government.

Addressing a National Farmers Federation conference in Canberra, Mr Albanese said the National Reconstruction Fund would set aside money specifically for the agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and fibre sectors.

The fund aims to provide loans, equity and guarantees to investors establishing new businesses or those recovering from the stress of the pandemic.

“This will encourage investment in value adding and growing exports. It will help diversify the sector and open up new possibilities for trade,” he said.

Mr Albanese also announced a plan to improve mobile coverage throughout Australia, including a $400 million fund to expand multi-carrier mobile coverage along with an audit of blackspots.

“This is a comprehensive, targeted plan that will ensure better mobile coverage on roads, on farms, and across regional communities – and better broadband as well,” the federal opposition leader said.

Asked if he would scrap the agriculture worker visa if he won government, Mr Albanese told an audience of farmers and stakeholders he would provide a better system.

“The ag visa is not real at the moment … we will sit down with you and have an appropriate system,” he told the conference.

Earlier, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud criticised the Australian Workers’ Union for campaigning against the visa.

“Labour force is the biggest constraint on our industry at the moment. I’m proud to say I never gave up on an Ag Visa,” he said.

“I’m not going to make election commitments and promises, we’re going to act and we’re going to act in this year’s budget $21 billion worth of investment in regional and rural Australia.”

Farmers have a list of five priority areas they say need to be addressed for agriculture to thrive, including a $5 billion rural telecommunications fund to improve connectivity for remote Australia.

Launching the election wish list on Tuesday, NFF President Fiona Simson said the importance of the upcoming federal election for agriculture and the bush could not be understated.

Ms Simson called on all parties to back the five priority areas, including fast-tracking discussions to lock in 10 agriculture visa partner countries.

So far, only Vietnam has signed on to the arrangement.

Ms Simson said she welcomed Labor’s commitments to improve bush communications and advance regional manufacturing if Labor was to win government.

But she said she was looking for a commitment from Federal Labor to continue the Ag Visa.

“The Ag Visa is a key piece of the jigsaw to address the workforce shortages constraining agriculture’s growth.”

In a pre-recorded speech, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the conference the coalition had pumped $100 billion into regional Australia since 2013 and was committed to doing more.

Natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed the country to its very limits.

“Yet through it all, we have reaffirmed one simple truth – Australia’s strength, our resilience,” Mr Morrison said.

The value of farm production is heading towards $81 billion this year, which meant rural industry was foundational to the government’s economic plan.

“(My government) knows that Australia is way more than our eight capital cities … the wealth of our nation resides in the regions,” Mr Morrison said.