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Budget praise and criticism

By Country News

The Victorian Government’s latest budget has received a mixed response, with a number of positive commitments also accompanied by a number of ‘‘glaring funding gaps’’ according to the VFF.

Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said the budget delivered for agriculture and regional Victoria.

‘‘Victoria is Australia’s number one food producer — and we want to keep it that way, so we’re investing in our hardworking farming communities so they can better deal with the challenges posed by climate change and biosecurity risks,’’ she said.

However, Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh was highly critical of the lack of Regional Development Victoria funding in the budget.

‘‘When you think about SPC Ardmona, which was at risk of closing back in 2013-14, it got $22million out of that regional fund, which made sure that SPC Ardmona was kept in Shepparton and made sure that there was a guarantee of the more than 500 jobs at that particular business into the future,’’ Mr Walsh said.

‘‘That would not be able to happen now when there is no dedicated regional fund.

‘‘If you think about the agricultural portfolio, there are cuts to the department of agriculture — a $48million cut to the department of agriculture in this budget.

‘‘And if you think about the things that actually drive the future of agriculture and that drive productivity in agriculture, it is research and development.’’

The VFF welcomed significant funding for biosecurity and roads, but said there were clear funding gaps.

The 2019-20 budget committed $425million for regional roads and $143million to expand the biosecurity services system in a bid to improve biosecurity.

More investment in education was also flagged, with $7.2million to go towards increasing agriculture studies, including Certificate III in Shearing and upgrades to University of Melbourne’s Dookie Campus, and $500000 towards the Young Farmers Scholarship.

An additional $3million will be spent to increase farmer health checks and appoint two more VFF farm safety officers, while the regional payroll tax will be cut to 25 per cent of the metropolitan rate by 2022-23.

‘‘While there are some significant promises, the government has missed an opportunity to fund dedicated agriculture liaison officers in Victoria Police to help fight farm crime,’’ VFF president David Jochinke said.

‘‘We could not find any mention of the rural and regional energy network, or desperately needed rates relief while we wait for the rates review to unfold.

‘‘Many of our farmers across the state are still experiencing drought and it was frustrating not to see a greater focus on support and adaptation.’’

The budget includes $12.6million in funding for drought-affected farmers.

‘‘If we are to continue as the strongest performing economy in the country, agriculture needs to be front and centre as one of our greatest economic assets,’’ Mr Jochinke said.

‘‘We cannot afford to ignore the contribution agriculture makes and the conditions required to help it grow.’’