Labor leader Anthony Albanese will set up a $500 million fund to encourage investment in the agricultural sector and earmark $656 million for a regional telecommunications package if he wins government.
Addressing a National Farmers Federation conference in Canberra, Mr Albanese said the National Reconstruction Fund would earmark funds specifically for the agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food sectors and fibers.
The fund aims to provide loans, equity and guarantees to investors setting up new businesses or recovering from the stress of the pandemic.
“This will encourage investment in value addition and export growth. This will help diversify the sector and open up new business opportunities,” he said.
Mr Albanese also announced a plan to improve mobile coverage across Australia, including a $400 million fund to expand multi-carrier mobile coverage as well as a blackspot audit.
“This is a comprehensive and targeted plan that will ensure better mobile coverage on the roads, on farms and in regional communities – and better broadband too,” the Federal Opposition Leader said.
When asked if he would scrap the farm worker visa if he won government, Mr Albanese told an audience of farmers and stakeholders that he would provide a better system.
“The agricultural visa is not real at the moment…we will sit down with you and have a proper system,” he told the conference.
Previously, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud criticized the Australian Workers’ Union for campaigning against the visa.
“Labour is the biggest constraint for our industry right now. I am proud to say that I have never given up on an agricultural visa,” he said.
“I’m not going to make any pledges or campaign promises, we’re going to act and we’re going to act in this year’s budget of a $21 billion investment in regional and rural Australia.”
Farmers have a list of five priority areas they believe need to be addressed for agriculture to thrive, including a $5 billion rural telecommunications fund to improve connectivity for remote Australia.
Launching the election wishlist on Tuesday, NFF President Fiona Simson said the importance of the upcoming federal election to agriculture and bushcraft could not be understated.
Ms Simson called on all parties to support the five priority areas, including accelerating talks to lock in 10 agricultural visa partner countries.
So far, only Vietnam has signed the arrangement.
Ms Simson said she welcomed Labor commitments to improve communications in the bush and advance regional manufacturing if Labor were to win government.
But she said she was seeking a federal labor pledge to continue the agricultural visa.
“The Ag Visa is a key piece of the puzzle to address the labor shortages that limit the growth of agriculture.”
In a pre-recorded speech, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the conference the coalition had injected $100 billion into the Australian region since 2013 and was committed to doing more.
Natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed the country to its limits.
“Yet through it all, we have reaffirmed a simple truth – Australia’s strength, our resilience,” Mr Morrison said.
The value of agricultural production is heading towards $81 billion this year, meaning rural industry was the backbone of the government’s economic plan.
“(My government) knows that Australia is so much more than our eight capitals… the wealth of our nation lies in the regions,” Mr Morrison said.
Australian Associated Press