UPDATED: The 2019-20 federal budget quietly marks the grave of former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce's pet policy, the $4 billion Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.
From its implementation in 2015 the White Paper kicked-off a wide range of new initiatives and 217 additional staff contracted to the Department for project work.
Yesterday's budget papers revealed that as the White Paper projects are wound up the Department's roster has been reduced by 217.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said while the special project work had ended, the Department's other work was business as usual.
Halfway through its implementation in 2017 then Minister Joyce dismissed criticism the White Paper, arguing associated tax write-offs had spurred on-farm investment and more generous terms had attracted more investment in Farm Managed Deposits.
"What the Labor called a hotchpotch of policy thought bubbles has turned into one of the most extensive documents and it's been part of one of the biggest turnarounds in agricultural production in our nation's history," he said.
White Paper contract work employed staff across a variety of projects such as managing farm risk (one project worker) concessional loan schemes (two staff), and even seafloor mapping to identify biosecurity risks from international shipping (10 staff).
Mr Littleproud said the end of White Paper projects wouldn't detract from the department's ongoing work.
"We have increased staffing on other fronts, such as the 31 new jobs we created when we boosted biosecurity last year - putting boots on the ground at our ports and airports to keep our farmers safe from invading pests, diseases and other biosecurity risks," Mr Littleproud said.
Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the federal government's delivery to the sector would be impacted by the changes, but said he wouldn't speculate on it's staffing policy were the Opposition party to win government.
"Departmental delivery is, in part, determined by staff numbers and no matter how you cut it, the Agriculture Department is in decline and that's a concern," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
"I'm not going to run commentary on future staffing from Opposition, I'll only express my disappointment that government is cutting workers."
Community and Public Sector Union said 199 staff had been lost from Department divisions responsible for biosecurity, exports, and plant and animal health, while 26 had gone from the water division.
CPSU national president Alistair Waters said the cuts should be "deeply worrying" for rural communities.
"This Budget papers show that, with the cuts to this area last year, the government is cutting around one is five workers in the area of the department responsible for the health and sustainability of Australia's rivers," Mr Waters said.
"We've seen the quarantine problems caused by previous biosecurity cuts from this government. These reductions reflect the end of the government's response to the white spot prawn outbreak in Queensland and do nothing to boost protections to avoid the risks of future biosecurity breaches.
"The Government should be putting on more staff in this critical area, not cutting further into the department's capacity to support Australian agriculture."
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