Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Shoring up rural communities”

12 June 2015

From the beef producer at the Roma Saleyards to the petrol station owner on the Warrego, a lot of discussion recently has been about the fact that Australia’s economy is in transition.

The decline in revenue from mining commodities and the associated cutbacks and job losses means rural communities are experiencing the impact of this transition more than most.

In my own state of Queensland, there is probably no more notable example than the fewer number of newspaper advertisements for CSG industry workers and contractors.

We know that the CSG to LNG sector is moving from a construction to a production phase.

One of the benefits for government is the public purse will finally start gathering royalties that can be spent on improving other areas of the economy.

The QCLNG plant production is expected to reach eight million tonnes a year annum during 2016, sending around 120 shipments a year to China, Japan, Singapore, India and Chile.

The royalties generated from these shipments will prove important given the steep fall in global prices for our major export commodities – namely iron ore and coal – have more than halved in some cases since the peak in 2011.

Despite these issues, the cold hard facts do not support the arguments of the naysayers who attempt to talk down the economy and Australia’s financial outlook.

While change can sometimes be uncomfortable, the Federal Government has committed to a raft of measures to strengthen business confidence in the short to medium term as our economy makes this transition.

Firstly, we should not forget that we currently enjoy encouraging economic variables – low interest rates, falling petrol prices and a low Australian dollar.

This is being reflected in the latest economic data which shows real economic growth rose by 0.9 per cent in the last quarter to be 2.3 per cent higher over the past year. This exceeds market expectations.

This builds on growth of 0.3 per cent in the September quarter and 0.5 per cent in the December quarter last year.

This result makes Australia one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world and faster than any of the G7 in the quarter.

In addition, exports continue to support our economy, growing by 5 per cent. This is the strongest quarterly result in 15 years.

The Coalition has presided over one of the greatest turnarounds in soft commodity prices, with six new live animal destinations, three new Free Trade Agreements and significant inroads towards deals with India and the TPP, have all contributed to graziers enjoying record prices for cattle and sheep alongside a dramatic turnaround in the Eastern Market Wool indicator.

The recent Federal budget acknowledges the agriculture sector, small business and local government will be crucial to strengthening our regional economies into the future.

Councils throughout the Surat Basin are likely to benefit from a range of dedicated infrastructure grants from the Federal Government in this budget.

For example, the Roads to Recovery Programme will continue to support the construction and maintenance of local roads with $350 million allocated annually (until 2018-19), as well as a double allocation with an extra $350 million being funded in 2015-16.

The Bridges Renewal Programme saw $113.7 million allocated for 73 projects across the nation. Applications for Round Two of the programme will open in the coming months.

Within the $333 million drought relief program announced last month, $35 million has been dedicated to assist councils such as Balonne and Maranoa instigate shovel-ready projects that offer the greatest potential to stimulate local spending, use local resources and provide lasting benefit to the community.

To assist pastoralists to more effectively store and use water and fodder to better manage periods of drought and improve their ability to ward off feral pests through fencing, primary producers are now able to claim more favourable accelerated depreciation on farm infrastructure.  The fences they build are 100 per cent deductible in the first year.

The water infrastructure and dams they put will also be immediately 100 per cent tax deductible. The silos and hay sheds they build can be written off over three years.

Small business has been the biggest winner in the 2015 budget with more than $5 billion in initiatives announced.

Whether it’s a computer, chainsaw or second-hand vehicle, any small business looking to purchase equipment that costs up to $20,000 can now instantly claim a 100 per cent tax deduction.

From reports at Farm Fest at Toowoomba this month, many people from across southern Queensland and northern NSW were keen to take up this budget initiative.

We should not lose sight of the fact that there is deep resilience in the Australian economy despite our transition away from the resource sector.

A rebalancing of growth is taking place with roadblocks being removed. New markets are being opened and our economic plan is working.

But the numbers confirm that Australia is rising to the challenge.