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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...