VFF state election wish: $250m rail freight boost wanted

THE Victorian Farmers Federation has put a $250-million boost to rail freight at the top of its shopping list for this year’s state election.

Rail freight upgrade and standardisation have long been on the agenda for the VFF, with some parts of the state running on standard gauge and others on broad gauge tracks.

Federation vice-president David Jochinke said improvements to the Victorian rail system would be vital to productivity in the Wimmera.

“We want to see the commitment to infrastructure funding, most of that in our neck of the woods,” he said.

Mr Jochinke said he was unsure whether either party would commit to the entire $250-million package requested for rail because of the state of the budget, but remained ‘very, very confident’ upgrades would be funded in some capacity.

With just over 10 months to the election and the government holding a one-seat majority, Mr Jochinke said the VFF would be well placed to deal with any election result.

“We’ve got an open door to all political parties and we’ve had numerous meetings with all parties discussing where they see the future of agriculture,” he said.

Also on the agenda for the federation is a parliamentary inquiry into rural ratings.

VFF Horsham South branch secretary Neville McIntyre said the rating system had been unfair on farmers for too long and change in the sector was long overdue.

“The current rates system based on capital improved value of assets has to change,” he said.

“Now we see our rates money being spent in Horsham and nothing spent outside.”

The wish-list includes increased funding to front-line Department of Environment and Primary Industries agricultural services, a $500,000 boost to the National Centre for Farmer Health, continued support to young farmers and increased farmers’ rights in the face of coal seam gas developments.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the government would work with the VFF leading up to the May state budget.

“It is great to see the VFF strongly advocating for rural and regional Victoria,” Mr Walsh said.

“The Coalition government is focused on delivering for country Victoria and I look forward to positive discussions with the VFF during the coming state budget process and election policy development.”

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