Budget 2017 – ‘perfect’ makes way for ‘practical’

Budget 2017 – ‘perfect’ makes way for ‘practical’


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Australian Farm Institute executive director, Mick Keogh, says Tuesday's federal budget is not perfect, but it will make some progress in reducing future deficits.

Australian Farm Institute executive director, Mick Keogh, says Tuesday's federal budget is not perfect, but it will make some progress in reducing future deficits.

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The practical approach to getting the job done seems to have been adopted by the federal government in its latest budget

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Farmers are very familiar with the fact that perfection sometimes has to give way to practicality when it comes to getting jobs done.

The perfect time to mark lambs just happens to be when the shearers are available to start shearing, so the practical approach is to put back lamb marking a week or so.

The perfect time to service the tractor is at 5000 hours, but there has been a good autumn break, so the practical approach is to arrange the service after the crop has been sown.

This practical approach to getting the job done seems to have been adopted by the federal government in its latest budget.

The perfect approach to get rid of budget deficits is to cut government spending, but that approach was tried in 2014 and has gone nowhere.

So a more practical approach which involves some extra taxes has been adopted this year.

It’s not perfect, but at least will make some progress in reducing future deficits.

The perfect approach for the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail project would be to commission highly detailed feasibility studies, and to engage in extended consultations with regional communities and potential users.

The trouble is that adopting that approach can mean nothing ever gets done (the Sydney Harbour Bridge would never have been built based on the number of cars that used it in the early years).

So the government has opted for a more practical approach.

The commitment to start construction of this rail project in 2017-18 is good news for agriculture and for regional communities, and the longer-term promise of cheaper, faster freight options and fewer trucks on major highways and city streets will benefit the entire economy.

The budget announcement about the establishment of the Regional Investment Corporation can be viewed in the same light.

Ideally, there would not be a need for concessional loans for farmers, or Commonwealth Government finance to encourage state governments to develop better water infrastructure.

But if these measures are going to be made available, then in practical terms it is probably better for them to be managed by a single federal organisation applying a common set of eligibility rules, rather than to have different arrangements in each state.

That said federal government agencies don’t have a good track record delivering programs on the ground (think pink batts and school building programs) so it is hoped that state rural finance agencies will retain that role.

The budget commitments to maintain rural research and development funding, and to restore funding for Landcare provide some reassurance the government is committed to these practical programs and recognises the benefits they bring.

As is often the case for the agriculture sector, the absence of budget cuts to existing programs is good news, even if there are no new spending announcements.

Looking forward, there are some big rural sector challenges that will need to be tackled in future budgets.

Top of the list is better telecommunications access.

The rapid emergence of digital agricultural technologies is creating new opportunities for farmers to grow their businesses, but connectivity is critical.

While the deployment of the Skymuster satellites and the mobile telephone blackspots program are a start, they are only partial solutions.

The next big regional infrastructure project must tackle the challenge of connecting up the bush with fast, reliable and widely accessible telecommunications access.

The practical, ‘get the job done’ approach evident in the 2017 budget will be sorely needed for this project to succeed!

  • Mick Keogh is executive director of the Australian Farm Institute
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