Budget hailed as a win for regional Australia

IT’S been touted as a win for rural and regional Australia, but will our community see any of the money from Tuesday night’s federal budget?

Pundits have labelled Liberal government treasurer Scott Morrison’s second budget as Labor-esque, with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) getting the tick of approval, as well as Gonski-recommended funding plans for all schools that means elite private institutions will have to cop a financial hit to the hip pocket.

Of course, there is the 0.5 per cent hike on the Medicare levy that will help pay for the NDIS, but few taxpayers would begrudge chipping in to give our disabled population and their carers some much-needed peace of mind. 

The big news for our region is the inland freight rail is finally on the agenda after years of talking about it – to the tune of $8.4 billion. While Cootamundra will miss out on being on the direct line, the flow-on effect of building a new line from Illabo to Stockinbingal will surely give our community an economic boost as the large-scale infrastructure plan comes to fruition.

Farmers will be the victors from this ambitious project, which promises to lower freight costs and improve shipping times. But those struggling on the land will still have to make do with low-interest rate loans as their lifeline.

And while the construction phase locally will involve both cost and inconvenience (overpasses at Edmonson and Glenfield roads, and some pedestrian bridges, will have to be altered to allow “double-stacker” carriages), the project is a capacity-building behemoth for our region.

We should never forget how inextricably linked the fortunes of the region are to the fickle fortunes of farmers.

On average, transport accounts for about a third of a farmers’ costs.

Inland rail will dramatically reduce those transport costs and equate to better farm gate returns. This will, in turn, create greater prosperity for farmers and tangible flow-on benefits for Riverina economies.

Importantly, the project will also get freight off roads and onto rail, striking a blow for road safety.

Of course, a funding promise is just that. The important work starts now.

The government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation must work hand-in-glove with regional communities, the private sector and industry to ensure the concept becomes a workable reality.