The National Farmers Federation (NFF) is calling on the Government to prioritise investment in bush telecommunications in this year’s Federal Budget on 8 May.
“Better – more reliable, affordable mobile phone and internet services are a must if the farm sector is to reach its potential,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.
Ms Simson said the future for Australian agriculture was bright.
“Unlocking the full potential of ‘digital agriculture’, alone, is forecast to increase the value of agricultural production by $20.3 billion.
“However, to a large extent, realising this growth is dependent on better connectivity.
“The NFF believes the Australian Government has a significant opportunity in this year’s Budget to make Australian agriculture a truly connected industry.
“Doing so would level the playing field for what is arguably Australia’s most innovative sector,” Ms Simson said.
Specifically, the NFF is calling for regional, rural and remote Australians to have guaranteed access to high-speed broadband and reliable mobile coverage.
“Currently all Australians are guaranteed access to voice services.
"However, for many of our most remote farmers this is their only line of communications.
“To deliver what are regarded as contemporary services this guarantee must extend to high speed broadband services.”
Ms Simson said disappointingly, mobile phone coverage was still unavailable in many parts of regional Australia.
“Farmers also do business on the move, managing vast expanses of Australia.
“Mobile connectivity is crucial to allowing farmers to not do business, but also for safety reasons – farming can be a dangerous occupation.”
“For this reason a commitment to Rounds 4, 5 and 6 of the Mobile Blackspots Program is a must.”
Ms Simson said the Government, through its engagement with the NFF and the Regional, Rural, Remote Communications Coalition, recognised the inequality non-urban Australians suffered when it comes to telecommunications.
“We thank Regional Telecommunications Minister Bridget McKenzie for her commitment to improving bush communications."
Ms Simson said the NFF was proposing a list of Budget measures, which would help even the playing field.
“We believe the Government can continue to take steps forward by delivering the following measures:
Bi-partisan support for the Telecommunications Reform Package, to, for the first time, guarantee high speed broadband as a legislative right for all Australians;
* a commitment of $180 million ($60 million per round) to Rounds 4, 5 and 6 of the Mobile Blackspots Program, consistent with the funding for previous rounds;
* seed funding of $5 million over three years for a Telecommunications Innovation Pilot Project, to grow digital literacy and foster technology applications in rural and remote Australia; and
* the establishment of an industry funded Rural Regional and Remote Telecommunications Fund as part of the Universal Service Guarantee reform.
Ms Simon said the NFF had a goal for the sector’s farm gate output to be $100 billion by 2030.
“This financial year that figure will total $59 billion, meaning we need to grow by almost 70% in the coming twelve years.
“To achieve such bold growth, we need the enabling infrastructure, including, critically, digital infrastructure."