The WA Government has come through as per its pre-budget announcement, with a turnaround budget for the WA Department of Agriculture.
For the first time in years, the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) has secure funding to end the annual budget cuts, which over the past decade have seen staff numbers effectively halved.
The $131 million of new funding over the next four years will lock in current staffing at 1580 Full Time Equivalents (FTEs), with around 1000 staffers working on Agriculture related issues. This will mean that the planned cuts in forward estimates which would have taken out another 100 staff will not go ahead.
It is not back to the days when the Department had 1500 staff, but at least they have put a floor in, and the Department and can start recruiting the next generation of graduates.
Finally, we have gotten away from the short-term Royalties for Regions projects that while supported by the industry, offered no career path for developing graduates which were on a contractual basis.
This government has spent its first two years finding its feet within the industry, as it merged the Department with Fisheries and Regional Development, but this budget is clearly a sign that this process is coming to an end, and they are up and running and taking our industry seriously.
This is a credit to Minister Alannah MacTiernan as it is the first time in 20 years we have seen a Minister stand up to Treasury and not just hold the line, but push back and demand the level of funding support needed to help the industry grow.
You can not turn a $7 billion-dollar industry into a $10 billion-dollar industry with government not playing its part, as our turnover grows its right to see government reinvest some of our tax revenue.
We have already had announcements this year of new funding support for biosecurity, dog fences, mobile phone black spots, Asian market trade support, and grains research and development.
WAFarmers acknowledges the Minister’s focus on these areas and the serious dollars she has put into them.
Fees and charges have been kept at inflation, so no complaints there; except for country stand pipes which have seen huge rises in charges from $2.53 to $8.35 per megalitre.
$87.5 million for the Wheatbelt Secondary Freight Route which is a start to the billion dollars needed to upgrade the 4300 km of country roads.
$24.1 million in ongoing funding for the ‘WA Open for Business’ program to promote export opportunities for regional businesses.
$10 million to support more development in the Ord picks up on one of our calls to keep developing broadacre farming in the north of the state.
$45 million for a new Employer Incentive Scheme and training delivery in regional WA is important to help address the ag skills shortage and help WA employers with the costs of employing apprentices and trainees.
WAFarmers Rhys Turton said, “credit is needed where credit is due, the Treasurer and Minister for Agriculture have delivered a good budget which will help set up agriculture for the next four years.”