Boost for dam-building and water storage in agriculture white paper

Source: The Guardian

A $500m spend in Australia to encourage the building of new dams and water storage projects were among measures unveiled on Saturday by the Abbott government in its long-anticipated agricultural competitiveness white paper.

The government is claiming a headline investment of $4bn, but the new spend in the agriculture package is understood to be $1.2bn over four years.

The policy wraps in a number of pre-existing initiatives, including the proposed regional spend on broadband infrastructure, and measures outlined in the recent budget.

The agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, was due to launch the white paper with the prime minister on Saturday and then spend a week on the road selling the measures in regional Australia.

The white paper confirms the government has allocated $250m a year over 11 years for concessional loans providing support for farmers in times of drought. That package translates to a $2.5bn spend, but farmers repay the money to the commonwealth.

It also allocates an additional $29.9m for farm insurance and risk assessment grants.

The new policy includes $114m for a new commissioner at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) dedicated to promoting fair competition in the farm sector.

The new ACCC farm commissioner will be given a mandate to encourage fair trading and also strengthen competition in agricultural supply chains, and a $13.8m pilot program will give farmers information on cooperatives, collective bargaining and also support contract negotiations.

There are investments in pest and disease eradication and in research and development.

The spending on water security is broken up into $50m for planning work “and $450m to construct national water infrastructure in partnership with state and territory governments and the private sector”.

The government’s recent northern Australia white paper also allocated $200m for dam building and other water storage options.

The launch of the agriculture white paper was initially scheduled for release in late 2014, but the process became bogged down because of arguments within the government about the level of funding to be attached to the initiative.

There were also objections to some of the policy options floated in earlier iterations. In addressing the delays, the prime minister has said it was more important to get the policy right than launch it too early.

But Labor has criticised the long gestation. “Now six months late, Labor welcomes the imminent release of the agriculture white paper,” Labor’s agriculture spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, said on Friday. “It’s now over to you, Barnaby, to deliver for the farm sector.”

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