Australian PM announces A$100m North Australia Beef Roads Fund

Tony Abbott pledged the capital injection to improve roads critical for the region's beef industry at the Beef Australia 2015 event in Rockhampton, Queensland.

Australian premier Tony Abbott pledged A$100 million ($79 million; €70 million) in funding to improve north Australian roads used by the region’s burgeoning beef industry at last week’s Beef Australia event in Rockhampton, Queensland.

The North Australia Beef Roads Fund will be part of a A$1.7 billion federal funding package aimed at developing agriculture in northern Australia, and the state of Queensland will be a particular target for cash injection, Abbott told delegates at the 80,000 people-strong event.

The fund, which could attract capital from local governments and other institutions, will invest in improving the roads that are critical to transporting cattle in a region that produces 90 percent of the country’s cattle exports. About 35 percent of the cost of getting beef to market is in transport, so the fund will aim to bring those costs down, said Abbot. The fund will rely on CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, to identify which road improvements will make the biggest financial difference to the cattle supply chain in the region, he added.

“We are determined to use this money as an important contribution to the private sector, to what councils and to what state and territory governments are prepared to put forward,” said Abbott. “This is a sign of the Commonwealth’s commitment to the cattle industry. We all know the problems that the cattle industry suffered under the former government closing down the live cattle trade to Indonesia. The cattle industry is well and truly reviving and this is a sign to our commitment to the industry.”

Penny Hayes, chief executive of beef-focused agriculture fund Australian Pastoral Fund, welcomed the news as “certainly a positive contribution to the beef industry in the North”, but added that it would be interesting to see how the fund plans to cover the huge distances in the region.

The fund announcement came out of a wider Northern Australia White Paper and Agriculture White Paper that are still being ironed out after several delays.

“You’ll see both of those papers soon, but what you’ll also see, starting today, are down payments on some of the measures in both of those white papers,” said Abbott. “We are committed to a holistic approach to northern development. We want to see better infrastructure, we want to see less regulation, we want to see more people, market access, particularly through things like the free trade agreement.”

There was some surprise that Abbott did not pledge any funding towards the continued drought across much of the region, although he said there would be announcements on this topic in due course.

The Australian government’s budget is due to come out on Tuesday.