A Better Future for our Regions

Labor recognises the contribution farmers, workers and regional communities make to Australia’s agriculture sector, which provides diversity to our economic exports, creates almost 300,000 direct jobs, provides critical independence to our national food supply, and is a hallmark of the national identity.

After a decade in government, the Nationals and Liberals’ legacy is a blight on the agriculture sector. Their failure to deliver the necessary reform has resulted in:

  • A crippling workforce shortage.
  • An under-resourced biosecurity system.
  • Inaction on climate change.
  • A severe timber shortage.

The National Party has taken farmers and regional communities for granted and as a result, the Morrison Government has let farmers and regional communities down. Their failure to drive the necessary reform across the agriculture sector has impacted directly on those whose very livelihoods rely on leadership at a federal level.

By contrast, an Albanese Labor Government would provide strong leadership to respond to the many challenges impacting farmers and regional communities.

Labor continues to support the National Farmers Federation’s ambitious goal to grow the value of Australia’s agriculture industry to $100 billion by 2030.

$500 million from Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund

To help diversify the sector, open up new possibilities for trade and create more jobs and economic activity in the regions, Labor has announced it will reserve $500 million of its National Reconstruction Fund specifically for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and fibre.

Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund is also available to support regional businesses such as in food manufacturing as they meet the challenges of entering new markets, the adoption of new technologies or processes and adapting to a low carbon world.

Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund will support investment in value-adding production, expand the domestic and export market and strengthen our national supply chain resilience.

Bolstering Australia’s biosecurity system

The Morrison Government has weakened our vital biosecurity system with years of under-resourcing. For almost a decade, multiple Agriculture Ministers have failed to establish a long-term funding arrangement for the nation’s biosecurity system. That’s why an elected Albanese Labor Government will deliver long-term, sustainable funding that will go directly to strengthening Australia’s biosecurity system.

Labor will improve biosecurity capabilities including addressing the potential impact of lumpy skin disease, supporting the adoption of livestock traceability reforms and reducing the impact of pests and weeds.

Labor will also double the number of Indigenous Rangers and boost funding for Indigenous Protected Areas which will assist with the early detection of exotic animal disease in those areas.

A Labor Government will strengthen Australia’s biosecurity system across mail centres and airports. To help keep pests, weeds and disease out of Australia, Labor will boost our biosecurity services by providing an additional 20 biosecurity detector dogs. To support our canine response, Labor will also provide for an additional 10 biosecurity detector dog handlers.

Supporting the forestry sector and addressing the timber shortage

Federal Labor is a proud supporter of the forestry sector. We understand the value of forestry and the jobs and communities it supports.

We are committed to growing Australia's forest plantations, and to the continued sustainable management of the native timber industry. And we are committed to value adding to Australia’s fine forest products.

Labor is also committed to the one billion trees goal to meet Australia’s future timber needs.

The Morrison Government has failed to alleviate the growing timber shortage. Its own target to plant a billion trees by 2030 has proved to be a sham. The Government has only managed to meet just over 1% of the target so far. This is an extraordinary failure, and it is particularly troubling that there were fewer new plantations in 2019-20 than the year before, despite already bad figures in 2018-19.

An elected Albanese Labor Government will provide almost $220 million to expand the work of the National Institute for Forest Products and Innovation, continue the rollout of Regional Forestry Hubs to work with industry and state and local governments, and for grants targeted at better utilisation of logs and fibre, value adding and supporting the industry to continue to reduce its carbon footprint.

Labor will also provide $86.2 million for the establishment of new plantations to secure future wood supply and $4.4 million towards Australia’s illegal logging traceability and timber identification systems.

And the forestry sector can expect a share of investment through the $500 million for agriculture, forestry and fisheries under the National Reconstruction Fund.

Labor has reiterated its policy of removing the water rule in relation to the Emissions Reduction Fund and carbon farming, helping to encourage growth in the plantation resource across the country.

In addition to these measures an elected Albanese Labor Government will:

  • Invest $10 million to support programs which deliver qualifications, competencies and other credentials which meet the specific training and accreditation needs of the forest, wood products, pulp and paper and fibre sectors.
  • Conduct an analysis of the national wood volume and the commercial opportunities from fire mitigation activities to ensure valuable wood resources are not wasted amid a timber shortage.
  • Hold a roundtable with the forestry sector, unions, States and Territories as part of the development of a Timber Fibre Strategy to ensure our existing forestry resources are being best utilised.

The Master Builders Association and the Australian Forest Products Association say Australia is heading towards a deficit of 250,000 timber house frames by 2035.

Scott Morrison’s failure to adequately support the planting of our future timber supply threatens Australia’s construction industry and the jobs it supports.

The Morrison Government dragged its feet for three years before finally making changes to the water rule, which was holding back investment in new timber plantations.

Labor’s continued commitment to remove the water rule will mean more trees in the ground. Investment in innovative ways to use the timber resources we have to make new building materials will help stop construction costs from continuing to soar.

Supporting sustainable fisheries

Labor has always recognised the social, cultural, economic, and community significance of Australia’s recreational and commercial fishing sectors, and seafood industry participants.

We acknowledge fishers as key stakeholder groups in respect of Australia’s sustainable management of its diverse and extensive freshwater and saltwater environment and we know they are practically and philosophically committed to protecting Australia’s biodiversity.  

Labor acknowledges the vital role fishers played in working with us in government to design the national marine parks. This was a remarkable achievement of which we can all be proud.

While in the lead-up to the 2019 election we believed there was scope to consider adjustments to park boundaries and zonal classifications, we accept that since that time the network has been delivered in a settled form.  Certainty in park management is critical and we don’t intend to revisit that matter.

As fishers know better than most, our oceans and the biodiversity they support are under increasing pressure, including from plastic pollution and climate change, and it is vital we keep pursuing effective protection and restoration efforts. To that end, Labor supports the Government’s recent announcement of a Cocos/Keeling and Christmas Island marine park, and a Labor Government will ensure the statutory review process of the national marine park network is carried out in a timely and consultative manner, with any changes considered on the basis of science and stakeholder consultation.  

An elected Albanese Labor Government will provide $4 million to small States and Territory Governments, such as the Northern Territory, to address existing capacity shortcomings in managing state marine parks.  We will be proactive in helping to develop the global treaty on marine plastic pollution that was recently agreed at UNEA 5.2.

Labor has consistently opposed the operation of foreign ‘super trawlers’ that would undermine the health of Australia’s commercial and recreational fisheries, and we will give consideration in government to a framework that addresses the importation of seafood from fisheries in our region that involve illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing practices, noting this already occurs in the US and EU.

Labor is mindful of the harm caused by invasive marine species and have been critical of the Government’s failure to include any Australian marine species in its flawed Threatened Species Strategy 2015-2020.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

An elected Albanese Labor Government will work with farmers to develop more solutions to act on climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside the economic benefits, Labor’s Powering Australia plan will reduce Australia’s emissions by 43 percent by 2030 – which will become Australia’s target under the Paris Agreement, keeping us on track for net zero by 2050.  

As part of this policy Labor has already announced $8 million to encourage the development of the Australian seaweed farming industry. This research is important with the use of asparagopsis in feed when it comes to reducing methane emissions from livestock.

Our Powering Australia plan shows 604,000 jobs will be created with five out of six of those being in regional areas.

Disaster Ready Fund

There have been some deeply disappointing responses from the Morrison Government to the significant challenges of bushfires, floods, the covid pandemic and the mouse plague.

The Government established the $4 billion Emergency Response Fund in 2019 to invest in disaster relief and mitigation. Unfortunately, it has barely spent a cent from the fund, instead treating it like a term deposit.

An elected Albanese Labor Government will replace the Emergency Response Fund with a Disaster Ready Fund, and we’ll use that fund to invest up to $200 million a year on mitigation projects to help reduce the impact of disasters when they happen.

Addressing the crippling agriculture workforce shortage

We know there is a crippling workforce shortage across the agriculture sector. There are shortages of skilled workers right across the economy, and agriculture is no different.

An elected Albanese Labor Government will deliver a dedicated Agriculture Workers Visa that not only provides portability but also protections for workers. Labor’s ag visa will draw on the stability of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility program.

Labor will establish Jobs and Skills Australia as a national partnership to drive VET education and strengthen workforce planning by working together with employers, unions and the training and education sector.

We will also create 465,000 new fee-free TAFE places in areas of demonstrated labour shortage. These fee-free TAFE placements will help rebuild industries hit hardest by the pandemic, like hospitality and tourism, as well as meet current and future needs in the care economy, including jobs like child care, aged care, disability care, nursing and community services. This can only be a good thing for regional communities.

Agri Tech Hub

An elected Albanese Labor Government will invest $16.7 million towards establishing an Agri Tech Hub in Richmond NSW.

The hub will include a high-tech industry partnered greenhouse array, supported by industry engaged research clusters in food technology, land use management and consumer demand. It will focus on creating jobs, attracting industry, and developing a sustainable approach to future peri-urban farming in our increasingly complex and changing cities, and on a global scale.

Clearer labelling

To support meat and plant industries an elected Albanese Labor Government will improve existing regulations that deliver accurate and clear food labelling for products so that consumers have informed choice.

Labor will also commit to working with the seafood and hospitality sectors to implement mandatory country of origin labelling to support the Australian seafood industry.

Support for industry events and forums

An elected Albanese Labor Government will provide $6 million for Beef Week 2024 – Australia’s largest beef expo.

Labor will provide $6 million towards other regional trade events including Casino Beef Week, LambEx, horticultural conferences and agritech industry events.

Labor will also support the convening of a 2nd Dairy Symposium.

Regional development architecture

Labor believes it is time for a revitalisation of the Regional Development Australia (RDA) structure and purpose.

Labor wants to see a much stronger partnership with local government in this regard. We need a more coherent and logical architecture for how federal government works in the regions.

In this context, the NFF’s current regional precinct proposal is timely, and well-considered.  

While Labor would seek to invest in all regions across Australia, we will consider the proposed approach from the NFF, along with other stakeholders, as we reinvigorate and rejuvenate the regional development structures that we will inherit, should we form government.  

Right now, Northern Australia needs stable leadership and investment from our Federal Government. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) has become a revolving door of CEOs and has failed to deliver what was promised. Of the $5 billion allocated to the Facility in 2016, only a small percentage has been released to projects across Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Indeed, more employees continue to work in Sydney than across all the entire north, despite the NAIF offices being based in Cairns.

Under the Liberals and Nationals, the NAIF has failed Northern Australia.

Supporting the Regional Australia Institute

The last Labor Government provided the seed funding to create the Regional Australia Institute, Australia’s first and only independent think tank dedicated to building robust regional economies and a better quality of life in our regional towns and cities.

In the decade since its creation, the Institute has gone from strength to strength, ensuring that decision-makers at all levels of government, industry and community have the information they need to ensure the best outcomes for regional Australia.

To enable the Institute to continue to grow, an Albanese Labor Government will invest $5 million over three years into the Regional Australia Institute. This funding will be used to bolster the Institute’s research and policy capacity in key regional priority areas, to extend activation and local impact initiatives that support regional areas; and to build new education programs that extend knowledge and best practice across regional Australia.

Unfair contract protection for small farmers

An Albanese Labor Government will improve protections for farmers against unfair contract terms with meaningful protection, safeguarding small business, contractors and smaller scale suppliers from exploitation.

Labor would make unfair contract terms illegal, giving businesses with fewer than 100 staff or a turnover of less than $10 million genuine protection against dodgy contracts. Once dodgy contracts are illegal, the competition watchdog will be able to issue civil penalties to those who use them.

This policy will include small farms and agricultural contractors and suppliers, which meet the above definition. Labor will finally legislate this reform which the farm sector and small businesses have been calling for.

Despite repeated calls from Labor and the small business community, Scott Morrison has failed to improve the existing protections, which simply aren’t strong enough to deter wrongdoing. The Morrison Government has left small businesses vulnerable to agreements with drawn out payment times and unfair pricing.

Investing in regional roads and rail

Labor has a strong track record delivering roads and rail across regional Australia.

An elected Albanese Labor Government will continue to build Australia’s road and rail networks that are key to getting agricultural produce to market and keeping supply chains moving.

This includes $250 million towards expanding the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure program to support projects and upgrade roads in every part of Australia – particularly in outer-urban and regional areas.

Labor will also put the focus back on nation-building infrastructure using the Infrastructure Australia model.

Getting Inland Rail back on track

Labor supports Inland Rail and recognises the benefits this nation building project will bring to producers, businesses and communities along the route.

Indeed, it was the last Labor Government that invested $900 million to progress this project to the construction stage.

Under the Morrison Government this project has gone off the rails, with billion-dollar cost blowouts and continued uncertainty regarding the route - including port linkages - causing considerable concern within some communities.

An Albanese Labor Government will do the hard work of getting this project back on track, closely guided by the recommendations of the senate inquiry into the project. This will include listening to farmers and communities concerned by the project's potential impacts and continuing the business case into extending the project to the Port of Gladstone.

Better connectivity

Better mobile coverage on roads, as well as improved connectivity for regional communities and on farms, will lead an Albanese Labor Government’s approach to upgrading regional telecommunications.

A key element of Labor’s Better Connectivity for Rural and Regional Australia Plan will be the establishment of a $400 million fund to expand multi-carrier mobile coverage along roads, as well as for regional homes and businesses.  

To support this, Labor will commit $20 million, to commence an independent national audit of mobile coverage in 2022, to establish an evidence baseline to guide future priorities.

A competitive tender process will be used to identify a partner company capable of placing mobile signal measurement devices on Australia Post’s transport assets, to gather the best information possible.

Priorities will be assessed independently to maximise benefits, and this will include consultation with Infrastructure Australia, and the broader community.

Labor will also commit $200 million to continue investing in place-based connectivity projects.

Drawing from the Regional Connectivity Program, funded projects could include better mobile voice and data coverage, targeted fibre deployments and improved microwave and fibre backhaul capacity to locations across regional and remote Australia.

To support the productivity and safety of our farmers, Labor will also commit $30 million to help expand on-farm connectivity and enable better wireless extension solutions on the field.  

This will enable more farmers to fully utilise sensor and connected-machinery technology to improve the efficiency of domestic food production and support the export growth potential of the sector.

Labor will boost funding for the Regional Tech Hub by $6 million to serve as a trusted intermediary and source of free and independent advice.

These initiatives supplement existing commitments Labor has made to:

  • Expand full-fibre NBN access to 660,000 more regional homes and businesses.
  • Upgrade the NBN fixed-wireless network to offer speeds between 100 and 250 megabits per second for all users.
  • Increase NBN satellite data allowances to 90 gigabytes a month and unmetered data between midnight and 4 pm, with an ambition to go beyond 100 gigabytes.

Housing support for the regions

Labor knows how hard it is when it comes to getting into the housing market.

Last year housing prices in the regions jumped by 26 percent, with some centres closer to 50 percent.

Labor’s Housing Australia Future Fund will build social and affordable housing now and into the future including in regional centres. This will create jobs, build homes and change lives.

We will also help 10,000 Australian families a year in regional areas to buy their first home.

This will triple the number of places that Australians living in regional areas received last year under the current First Home Loan Deposit Scheme.

A Labor Government will also create a new Help to Buy program.

It’s a national shared equity scheme that will provide an equity contribution from the Commonwealth Government for 10,000 aspiring homeowners on low and middle incomes, every year.

If you have saved two per cent of your deposit, we will contribute up to 40 per cent of the purchase price of a new home or 30 per cent for an existing home.

Help to Buy will assist Australians to buy a home with a smaller deposit, a smaller mortgage and smaller mortgage repayments.