A focus on improving road and rail transport, better access to health services and strengthening agricultural exports are key budget measures targeted at regional Australians.
But with poor connectivity in so many rural places, the number one item on many budget wish-lists, better telecommunications access, has gone unanswered.
“In addition to better weather and GPS services there will be additional new funding to protect against pests, disease and weeds,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said on Tuesday night.
“We will also be providing $146 million to improve access to aged care services in rural, regional and remote Australia.
“In rural and regional areas, we have funded a plan to get more doctors to where they are needed through a new workforce incentive program.”
Major shot in the arm for regional health
Making it easier for medical students to study in country areas and improving access to services are the major focus of the Government’s $83.3 million Stronger Rural Health Strategy.
There is $95.4 million for the establishment of a Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network that will see new training facilities established to support medical student training.
The University of NSW in Wagga Wagga, the University of Sydney in Dubbo, Charles Sturt University and Western Sydney University in Orange, Monash University in Bendigo and Mildura and the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University in Bendigo, Wodonga, and Shepparton will all work together to support medical teaching in the regions.
It would mean a student could graduate high school in Dubbo and complete their medical degree in their home town through the University of NSW.
There will not be any changes to the number of Commonwealth Supported Places for medical students.
For older Australians, a $40 million investment in regional, rural and remote aged care will aim to improve access to services.
There is also $105 million to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access culturally appropriate services and remain close to family members and country.
The measures come as part of a broader parcel of health spending, which focusses on improving access to aged care services and facilities, boosting funding to mental health services, and boosting community sport infrastructure to help Australians get more active.
Earlier, the Government promised an extra $84 million for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Transport spending spree
The Government signalled early on that infrastructure would be a major focus of this year’s budget.
Over the next ten years it has added $24.5 billion of new money to a $75 billion fund that has already promised upgrades to regional roads, rail lines and bridges.
There is also $3.5 billion for the so-called Roads of Strategic Importance, just under half of which will be spent exclusively in northern Australia.
The money is aimed at improving the safety and quality of regional networks including the Great Northern Highway in Western Australia, connections into the Australian Capital Territory from NSW, and regional corridors in Northern Australia and Tasmania.
Over the next four years, $24 million will be spent providing grants to improve safety and access at regional airstrips.
It comes after last year’s commitment to funding inland rail between Melbourne and Brisbane.
While a lack of further funding for mobile blackspots will disappoint many farmers, and no new funding for drought support will concern others, there are a number of measures in this budget aimed squarely at the farming economy.
There’s a $260 million investment in GPS technology, with $161 million to deliver a Satellite-Based Augmentation Strategy that will improve the performance of positioning data from five metres to 10 centimetres.
After initially planning to end the scheme this June, the government has extended the popular instant asset write off of $20,000 for businesses turning over less than $10 million a year.
And there is $20 million over the next four years to deliver on a promise to establish a National Forestry Industry Plan.
The commodity forecaster ABARES will be allocated $4.7 million to develop a deeper understanding of Australia’s seasonal labour needs.
It will collect data on labour expenditure, the number and type of people employed on farms what industries they are working in, and why it is so hard to recruit and retain workers.
After being neglected in previous budgets, this year biosecurity is a key focus, with a $101.6 million, four-year investment in detection technology, improved pest and disease incursion response plans and better screening of imported food.
Over the coming financial year, $20 million will be allocated to help Tasmania recover from an outbreak of fruit fly earlier this year, with a focus on eradicating the pest.
From July 2019, $6.6 million will be available to spend on fighting Australia’s worst animal pests and weeds.
A new $10.02 biosecurity levy per 20-foot container and a $1 per tonne levy on bulk imports coming via the sea will be imposed to help detect and screen for exotic pests and diseases.
Trade is the other major focus for farmers in this year’s budget, with $51.3 million to be spent on six new on-the-ground agricultural trade councillors in new markets, plus the extension of those positions in Vietnam, Malaysia, the Middle East, China and Thailand, bringing the total to 22.
They will work on the ground to eliminate trade barriers, keep markets open and alert farmers to new trade opportunities.
In turn, industries will be expected to pay back just under half of the investment under a cost recovery plan.
Digital overhaul for chemicals regulator
While the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority continues its relocation from Canberra to Armidale, NSW, it has been allocated $10.1 million over the next three years to completely digitise its workforce.
With a focus on creating a more flexible and efficient workforce, the money will be spent on moving systems into cloud-based servers, digitising records, as well as more online application and registration processes.
There are 15 staff on the ground in Armidale, and approximately 450 applications for positions at the new site, located next to the University of New England, and the new funding will assist staff to work remotely where possible.