Hundreds of emergency flights will send fresh produce to key export markets in a bid to help Australian farmers and fishers under economic pressure due to the coronavirus.
The federal government will spend $110 million on flights to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.
Where possible, the planes will return loaded with medical supplies and pharmaceuticals Australia needs to fight the disease.
Fisheries fees of $10 million will be waived, with a further $50 million added to a grants program to reimburse exporters for marketing costs.
High-quality exports like lobster and abalone have taken massive hits as the global pandemic shuts down commercial air travel.
About 90 per cent of Australian air freight usually goes out in the bellies of passenger planes.
“Those passenger flights are no longer coming and so we’ve got to look at freight solutions so that we can save jobs in those critical agricultural sectors as well,” Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told the ABC.
Fruit and vegetables, red meat and dairy products are among the other exports expected to benefit from the flights.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said it was important for farmers to maintain links to export markets during the crisis.
“Effectively freight costs have been smashed,” he told reporters in Toowoomba on Wednesday.
Mr Littleproud said Australians should not be concerned that food is being sent overseas during the coronavirus outbreak.
“There is no need for panic. Those supermarket shelves will be stocked well and comfortably if people go about their business calmly,” he said.
He said it was important for farmers to make a living through sending produce abroad.
“We’re a nation of 25 million people. We produce enough food for 75 million.”
Seafood Industry Australia chief executive Jane Lovell said the sector had been in turmoil since orders to China evaporated in late January.
“For the Aussie seafood businesses who have effectively been without an income for nine weeks, for their employees, and for their families this marks the beginning of a return to normal,” she said.
“There’s no better stimulus than getting back to work.”
Ms Lovell said the rescue package would secure businesses and jobs in seafood, as well as along the supply chain including freight.
While the initial flights will be from Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Mr Littleproud said regional airports would be able to bid for involvement.
The program will be overseen by former logistics chief Michael Byrne, who headed up Toll and Linfox.