2014: Drought relief lost in dust

16 Jan, 2015 01:00 AM
Comments
7
 
This is not a hand out - it is a hand up

AS the new year unfolds, we take a look back at the issues that defined agriculture in 2014. This week, the ongoing drought that brought producers to their knees and had governments on the run:


A natural disaster

AFTER declaring the already embedded drought as a natural disaster early in 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott indicated he would tour drought-hit regions, but stopped short of saying exactly when.

Meanwhile, firebrand NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan launched a scathing attack on the state of farm representation in Australia by raising concerns about the current void in drought planning measures.

It was a prescient warning, because by February Mr Abbott indicated he would look at bringing forward new drought support measures that were due to start on July 1, to provide income support payments to struggling farmers.

In a terrible case of irony, Mr Abbott and federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce were greeted by heavy rains on their drought tour, although National Farmers Federation (NFF) president Brent Finlay was quick to point out one rainfall event “doesn’t fix the drought”.

By the end of February, the federal government announced $320 million in immediate drought assistance measures, underpinned by a $280 million boost to concessional loans in the Farm Finance Package (FFP).

"This is not a hand out - it is a hand up," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, stressing that the loans were not designed to prop up unviable businesses but to help viable ones.

Bureaucratic failings

Queensland Nationals MP Bruce Scott blasted a key pillar of the Coalition government’s drought response when the Maranoa MP pledged to tackle serious concerns about bureaucratic failings in the Farm Household Allowance scheme.

Mr Scott said the application process for drought-hit farm families to access Centrelink support was “too complex and many are giving up as a result”.

Queensland independent Senator Bob Katter and federal Labor opposition leader Joel Fitzgibbon joined in the chorus of vocal criticism of a government that seemed to be dragging its heels across the cooler months.

Human capital

After the parliament’s extended winter break, Mr Scott injected a telling phrase - “human capital” - into his speech in the House of Representatives on the onging drought relief delays, a direct appeal for the banks to take a more humane approach to farmers in debt resulting from the big dry. From that point, it was hard to separate drought from rural debt in the national debate.

Bureaucratic delays did not impact some Australians, like a group of South Australians who organised an Easter convoy to deliver feedstock to the north.

While pushing the requests for assistance from Canberra, the NFF called for a “significant increase” to the federal government’s $420 million Farm Finance Package (FFP) and a reduction in the interest rate charged on its concessional loans.

Ad hoc response

Tensions quickly boiled over when the NFF accused every State government except Queensland of being missing in action with the provision of bureaucratic support to assist rural communities facing compound impacts from extended dry conditions.

The Coalition lifted drought up its agenda list when federal parliament resumed, while the NFF highlighted one in 100-year drought conditions were taking a grip in the Walgett area of NSW.

Mr Joyce returned fire at his critics and declared government drought support measures were being built from scratch and part of the green paper released ahead of the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper.

“People can see some of the ideas that are in there, especially making people more prepared for drought,” he said.

Coming up: rural debt.


Abbott flags drought tour

by COLIN BETTLES

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has indicated he will tour drought-hit regions, but has stopped short of saying exactly when.>>>Read more...


Ag groups 'asleep at the wheel': Heffernan

by COLIN BETTLES

FIREBRAND NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has launched a scathing attack on the state of farm representation in Australia in raising concerns about the current void in drought planning measures.>>>Read more...


PM pledges drought aid

by COLIN BETTLES

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has indicated he’s looking at bringing forward new drought support measures that are due to start on July 1, to provide income support payments to struggling farmers.>>>Read more...


Never rains, but pours on drought tour

by COLIN BETTLES

AS PRIME Minister Tony Abbott and Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce were greeted by heavy rains on their weekend drought tour, National Farmers Federation president Brent Finlay was keen to point out one rainfall event “doesn’t fix the drought”.>>>Read more...


$320m for drought-hit farmers

by COLIN BETTLES

THE federal government has announced $320 million in immediate drought assistance measures, underpinned by a $280 million boost to concessional loans in the Farm Finance Package (FFP). >>>Read more...


Flaming hoops of drought assistance

by COLIN BETTLES

QUEENSLAND Nationals MP Bruce Scott has blasted a key pillar of the Coalition government’s drought response package while calling for urgent changes.>>>Read more...


Drought policy missing in action

by COLIN BETTLES

QUEENSLAND LNP MP Bruce Scott has added to a growing chorus of critics demanding an overhaul of the federal government’s drought policy.>>>Read more...


Long-term drought policy missing: NFF

by COLIN BETTLES

JUST because drought support measures are being built from scratch doesn't mean the government's approach is ad hoc, according to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.>>>Read more...


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READER COMMENTS

Bushie Bill
20/01/2015 2:01:49 PM

Drought Relief is just another weasel word for RARA Rip Off.
Max
20/01/2015 2:19:35 PM

And so BB what do you call the dole, another union scam.
Old Crow
20/01/2015 2:36:03 PM

And draught relief Bill is when we put some drought relief to a good cause.
Bushfire Blonde
20/01/2015 3:48:34 PM

Ah yes Bush Basher Bill -blah,blah,blah. The truth about most of the drought relief money is that it ends up in the local economies, stimulating them - not in some tax haven somewhere. By the way you carry on, you probably know all about tax havens.
Bushie Bill
21/01/2015 7:36:57 AM

Crow, your post is without sense or meaning Would you like to regroup and have another shot at it?. Bushie Blonde, making some wild generalisations again.
Qlander
21/01/2015 9:54:44 AM

Draught beer Bushie, it's what the unwashed masses drink when they relax. I can understand that you've never heard of it, but it's like their version of wine. Just not as elegant, sophisticated, and intellectually superior.
Old Crow
21/01/2015 1:45:46 PM

Thank you Qlander. I should have known better that a latte sipper like Bill would not have known what a draught beer was.

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