Key issues for regional Australians in this year’s Budget

For long-time dairy farmer Noel Campbell, feeding his herd of 400 cattle is an unavoidable cost.

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But he says the twice daily milking process, which takes less than two hours each time and costs far more than it should, because of a law stipulating a minimum three-hour shift for engaging casual staff.

“So we’re actually paying if we need someone for four-hours for the day we’ve gotta pay them for six-hours so it makes it quite difficult to do so we tend to end up doing the work ourselves rather than employ people.”

And there’s a view that a lack of flexibility in the labour market is impacting the broader agriculture sector.

Tony Mahar from the National Farmers Federation says the nature of seasonal and sometimes remote work, means an “agriculture specific” visa should be considered as part of the Budget and review to the overall visa system.

“We need to have the capacity to get people from overseas that can come and help us get products out of the ground off the trees and onto the consumers tables and into their kitchens.”

Mr Mahar says the budget must also deliver certainty around the long-awaited inland rail infrastructure project, which would link key agricultural hubs throughout Victoria New South Wales and Queensland

“We’ve had feasibility studies and we’ve had committments from government which is positive – we need to actually get a firm committment of a billion dollars to getting this inland rail actually built.”

If completed, the 1,700 kilometre track will become Australia’s largest rail-freight project, and Jack Archer from the Regional Australia Institute says it will offer significant savings and improved opportunities for the sector

“With better pathways to markets, cheaper pathways to markets businesses and agricultural producers in those areas will be able to tap into the Chinese markets in a different way.”

Other issues front-of-mind for those living outside metropolitan centres include further commitment to mobile phone blackspot funding, access to effective internet facilities and upgrades to the Bruce and Pacific Highways.

Jack Archer from the Regional Australia Institute says – if funded appropriately – regional centres have the potential to provide a solution to a metropolitan problem.

“There’s an opportunity to address the housing affordability crisis by making it easier for people to consider regional living and transfer out into regional areas.”

Another key aspect of incentivising regional living is improving rail transport for those living in country areas centres and commuting to cities for work.

In Victoria the state government says it will spend almost $1.5 billion on regional rail upgrades, but needs the federal governement to release money it says it’s owed from the lease of the Port of Melbourne

Despite the challenges of living in the bush, Tony Mahar says the right high-level decisions could offer progress and solutions.

“As sectors like mining and manufacturing come down from in the mining case peaks agriculture will provide growth productivity and profitability.”