Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)

The agriculture lobby has called for tax sweeteners and fast-tracked approvals as part of a $76 billion, two-decade boost to regional transport, telecommunications and water projects.

The National Farmers’ Federation on Tuesday released a new regional development paper proposing an overhaul of regional job creation.

It argues for at least $76 billion in regional infrastructure spending, which would also include freight and social projects, over the next two decades. That equates to $3.8 billion a year.

The program would be underpinned by short-term incentives like payroll tax concessions or business development grants to fuel private investment in projects.

The paper makes the case for more food and drink processing and manufacturing in regional areas to cash in on agriculture’s potential.

Energy industries including renewables could gain competitive advantage from being located in regional and rural areas.

The paper also notes the potential for digital infrastructure such as data centres to be located in the regions.

Other recommendations include the delivery of 20 regional development precincts and a prioritised list of shovel-ready projects.

NFF chief executive Tony Mahar will unveil the report at a National Rural Press Club event on Tuesday.

He will appear alongside Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott and Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia chief executive Peter Strong.

The report advocates a shift from relocating city-based jobs to country areas, an approach favoured by government “decentralisation” in recent years.

Instead, regional Australia should capitalise on traditional industries like agriculture while also looking to areas of competitive advantage.

Mr Mahar said the coronavirus pandemic heightened interest in working and living outside urban centres.

“Large regional cities should be places where teachers, nurses, tradies, lawyers and investment bankers live side by side and be well equipped to retain their best and brightest with education and job opportunities,” he said.

“To make regionalisation happen, we need to throw the same level of resources for place-based development of regional centres as we do for places like western Sydney.”

He said the NFF wanted a review to ensure cost-benefit analyses of infrastructure proposals do not disadvantage the regions.

“Australia is without a cotton processing facility, despite Australian cotton being some of the most sought after in the world. The same is almost true for our renowned Merino wool,” Mr Mahar said.

“Regional Australia should be the host of a world leading export industry in food and fibre manufacturing. The fact we are not is a missed opportunity.”

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