Ministers divided on drought loan rules

30 Jun, 2014 02:00 AM
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WA Agriculture and Food Minister ken Baston wants criteria for drought loans to be extended.
I am concerned by the delay of the rollout of the drought concessional loans to farmers in WA
WA Agriculture and Food Minister ken Baston wants criteria for drought loans to be extended.

FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says he is disappointed with Agriculture and Food WA Minister Ken Baston, who he says is unable to agree to the eligibility criteria proposed by the Commonwealth for WA Drought Concessional Loan Scheme.

This comes after letters negotiating the terms of the scheme led to agreement on package funding being realised, however, the scheme is still not ready to be rolled out to farmers.

Farmers suffering significant financial impact because of drought, that are commercially viable in the long-term, will soon be able to apply for the loans to help them recover from and prepare for future droughts and return to commercial viability.

Mr Baston told Farm Weekly the scheme has not been finalised, as he believes more farmers should be eligible, however progress had been made.

"We have agreed on the amount of drought package funding available for WA, the administration costs and delivery through the Rural Business Development Corporation," Mr Baston said.

"I still believe some additional farm businesses should be eligible for the scheme, however they fall outside the boundaries proposed by the Federal Government, (which) accord to Bureau of Meteorology rainfall deficiency maps.

"These properties have faced tough seasonal conditions, and, late last week, I wrote to Mr Joyce and urged him to make allowances to extend the scheme in the eastern Wheatbelt."

Mr Joyce said after discussing the issue with Mr Baston, he was pleased that agreement had been reached on the administration costs for the drought concessional loans.

"However, I am disappointed that the Minister is unable to agree to the eligibility criteria proposed by the Commonwealth," Mr Joyce said.

"I have written back to Mr Baston to explain that the criteria has already been amended to provide additional flexibility and made clear that the drought criteria for WA is consistent with criteria for the other States.

"I will write to Mr Baston shortly proposing amendments to the Farm Finance Scheme so that those farmers not experiencing severe drought, but who have experienced irregular rainfall in the eastern Wheatbelt, will also have an avenue to access concessional loans for debt restructuring.

"I am concerned by the delay of the rollout of the drought concessional loans to farmers in WA.''

Scheme guidelines were provided to New South Wales, Queensland and WA agriculture ministers on April 15, and it is already operating in NSW and Queensland.

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