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Industry bodies raise concerns over federal budget shortcomings

(Source: Bigstock)

As inflation and economic uncertainty impact the economy, organisations representing the food industry and rural producers have delivered mixed scores on the Labor government’s first budget.

Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) CEO Tanya Barden said the budget shows a “welcome focus” on rebuilding Australian industry.

“The AFGC represents Australia’s $133.6 billion food and grocery manufacturing industry. The Albanese government’s focus on investing in the industry, regional growth and building the skilled workforce of the future is welcomed.”

The budget has allocated $135.5 million over four years to develop domestic manufacturing capabilities and skills, including $17.2 million for a pilot Food Manufacturing Innovation Hub in NSW.

Permanent migration levels will likely increase from 160,000 to 195,000 which will help ease critical workforce and skills pressures currently plaguing the industry.

However, while the budget has made major promises to boost manufacturing in regional areas and improve the skilled workforce, some groups feel it has missed the mark when it comes to the agricultural sector.

Food supply issues a “key concern” for Australians

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) wants the government to increase its focus on food supply issues as the rising cost of groceries is a “key concern” for Australians.

President Fiona Simson called this a “transitional budget” and said that more could be done to increase production in order to contain food price inflation.

“Farmers are in the grip of a severe labour crisis, facing skyrocketing costs, and currently experiencing flooding.

“These pressures on farmers are being felt by everyday Australians who are witnessing supply and price shocks on supermarket shelves.”

Simson added the government should try to improve access to labour, bolster supply chain infrastructure, and secure access to water in order to boost output.

To support the sustainable management of Australia’s environment, the budget will provide $1.1 billion over six years in funding for the Natural Heritage Trust. About $302.1 million of this funding will be “earmarked” for the farm sector.

Additional funding has also been allocated to biosecurity measures while a $4.6 billion in cuts to water infrastructure projects is seen as a “disappointing” move in an increasingly volatile climate.

“Bitterly disappointed”

NSW Farmers’ president Xavier Martin resonated with the sentiments and added the budget contains “promising announcements”, but rural communities will be “bitterly disappointed”.

“Australians need to be able to make a good life in the cities and in the bush, and it is clear we will need to continue to advocate for farmers and rural communities to the government.”

Martin said efforts to improve education and training amid a major worker shortage is a “positive move” as were research and development in lowering emissions.

“Critical drought-proofing efforts such as Dungowan and Wyangala dams have been ‘deferred’, and the likelihood of more water buybacks means there will be less water for agriculture once the rain stops.”

On the contrary, Seafood Industry Australia (SIA) CEO Veronica Papacosta welcomed the government’s commitment to the introduction of Country of Origin labelling for Australian seafood and for the rollout of an industry-specific mental health program, called Stay Afloat.

“Australians love their seafood and next to freshness, country of origin is one of the most influential factors for a consumer choosing which seafood they buy.

The introduction of Country of Origin Labelling in food service will help consumers make informed decisions and allow consumers to support our Australian seafood producers.

“This is a wonderful result, and we look forward to being able to provide critical and much-needed support to our industry members.”

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