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Federal Labor unveils agriculture policies in 11th hour of election campaign

Federal Labor has unveiled its agricultural policy in the 11th hour of the election campaign, with promises to spend $500 million on a regional construction fund and $400m upgrading regional telecommunications.

Labor rolled out its agriculture plan on May 13, one week before the Federal election, after more than a month of telling farmers and regional voters its agricultural policies would be unveiled “later in the campaign”.

Details of its agriculture spend fall under a broader “Better future for our regions” tab on the party’s website, headlined by a commitment to support the National Farmers Federation’s ambitious goal to grow the value of the industry to $100b by 2030.

There was no mention of live sheep exports or a transition plan for the industry after it was revealed Labor would ban live sheep exports if elected on May 21.

It claims the Coalition have “taken farmers and regional communities for granted” during the past decade in government, leading to a workforce shortage, under-resourced biosecurity system, inaction on climate change and a severe timber shortage.

Labor pledged $500m from the National Reconstruction Fund specifically for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food processing and fibre to support value-adding production and export markets.

Labor also committed to accelerate the rollout of the existing $4b Emergency Response Fund, replacing it with a Disaster Ready Fund to invest up to $200m on mitigation projects each year to reduce the impact of disasters when they happen.

It also pledged to bolster biosecurity — but did not provide a dollar figure — with promises to deliver a “long-term, sustainable” funding model, double the number of Indigenous rangers and fund another 20 biosecurity detector dogs.

Labor has also promised to make unfair contract terms illegal for businesses with fewer than 100 staff or a turnover of less than $10m, including small farms and agricultural contractors and suppliers that meet the criteria.

As previously announced, Labor would scrap the existing Agriculture Visa and create its own under the wing of the existing Pacific Australia Labour Mobility program.

It would also establish Jobs and Skills Australia to drive VET education and create 465,000 free TAFE places in areas with a demonstrated labour shortage.

Labor also announced plans to create a $16.7m Agri Tech Hub in NSW and bolster existing regulations to deliver clear food labelling for products and implement mandatory country of origin labelling to support the Australian seafood industry.

It would splash $6b on Beef Week 2024 and match the funding for other regional trade events, including LambEx and Casino Beef Week.

There was also $220 million to expand the work of the National Institute for Forest Products and Innovation and to continue the rollout of Regional Forestry Hubs to work with industry and governments.

An opportunity to compare agricultural policy between the two major parties was missed in April, when a National Press Club debate between Federal shadow agriculture minister Julie Collins and Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud was held.

Federal shadow agriculture minister Julie Collins.
Camera IconFederal shadow agriculture minister Julie Collins. Credit: Supplied/ALP/RegionalHUB

Mr Littleproud used the opportunity to announce the new $75 million Future Farmers Guarantee, but Ms Collins declined to outline Labor’s position on live sheep exports, the Agriculture Visa and biosecurity, saying Labor would announce them “later in the campaign”.

She did refer to already-announced Labor policies relevant to agriculture, including $8 million for the development of Australia’s seaweed farming industry and $400m to upgrade regional telecommunications.

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