23 July, 2020
Agri-manufacturing rebirth a priority
The National Farmers Federation (NFF) has called for a renaissance to regional food and fibre manufacturing in Central Queensland. This follows the launch of its Covid-19 economic recovery plan, Get Australia Growing, this month. NFF President Fiona Simson said the agriculture sector would accelerate Australia’s crisis rehabilitation.
“Covid-19 has provided a salient reminder of the need for a revitalised domestic manufacturing capability,” Ms Simson said in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra.
“When farmers do well, Australia does well. Regional Australia played a key role in staving off a recession during the GFC, and it can play a leading role again as we recover from Covid-19.
“We’re not in the business of picking winners, but regions that come to mind are the Darling Downs and magnificent Central Queensland, joined by the Mid-West and Goldfields, the Limestone Coast in South Australia and Victoria’s Mallee,” Ms Simson said.
“Get Australia Growing calls for an end to the strategy vacuum for the future of rural and regional Australia. For too long regional Australians have been the victims of empty promises and a lack of commitment from governments.
“Fragmented sources of public and private investment have no coordinating strategy at the regional level.”
The NFF’s Get Australia Growing document makes 35 recommendations to fuel growth, including calls to fast-track 20 new Regional Deals, slash red and green tape, fix the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and get regions digitally connected.
Ms Simson said the outlined priorities were not new nor were they ground-breaking, but were achievable and would stimulate new activity and employment in agriculture.
“The opportunities the NFF presents must not be squandered,” Ms Simson said. “They have the capacity to provide a rapid boost to a farm sector recovering from drought, fires and flood, as well as the impacts of Covid-19.
“The Commonwealth’s Regional Deals program in particular, has the potential to provide much-needed coordination between all levels of Government.
“When done right, Regional Deals should be the overarching framework to align transport, manufacturing, telecommunications, energy generation, education, labour, health, cultural, indigenous and social amenities across Local Government and State borders.
“We set a challenge for the government,” Ms Simson said. “Get the design of Regional Deals right, and back it up with a multi-billion dollar investment in their fast-tracked delivery.”
Ms Simson said Covid-19 restrictions had caused many businesses to think flexibly about how and where they operate.
“The shift in thinking from Australian businesses creates enormous opportunities for regionalisation of the Australian economy,” Ms Simson said.
“For a long time now, economic realities have forced a decline in local processing of food and fibre, as well as production of critical farm inputs.
“A properly resourced plan to improve the competitive environment for local manufacturers, particularly in regional Australia, must form part of our Covid-19 recovery.
“Australia was the envy of the world in its management of the health crisis. The world is looking to us.
“We’re well placed to lead the globe in economic recovery also, and the obvious place for that recovery starts in the bush.”