Nationals talk drought aid

06 Feb, 2014 01:00 AM
I’m very concerned about where we’re heading with this drought because it's grim enough now

THE federal Nationals will aim to shape a package of immediate drought assistance measures to support struggling farm communities at a party room meeting in Bundaberg today.

Nationals MP Michael McCormack said drought issues would be “front and centre” at the Queensland meeting, ahead of federal parliament sitting in Canberra next week for the first time in 2014.

Mr McCormack said several National MPs had electorates facing a “dire situation”, having gone up to 18 months without rain.

He said the dry conditions were also starting to impact on parts of his Riverina electorate in southern-western NSW, with requests for support coming in from rural constituents in recent weeks.

Agriculture Minister and Nationals deputy-leader Barnaby Joyce upped the ante after visiting drought-hit regions of southern Queensland and north-western NSW at the weekend and indicating he’d be pushing federal cabinet to lend support for those communities

NSW MP Mark Coulton, who attended several of those meetings with Minister Joyce including at Lightning Ridge, is pushing hard for an assistance package.

But Mr Coulton said reports on Monday morning suggesting Minister Joyce was now pushing federal cabinet for $7 billion to help implement an Australian Reconstruction and Development Board (ARDB) were inaccurate.

Mr Coulton said some people at the St George meeting raised the ARDB proposal and Minister Joyce “didn’t howl them down” as he supported the concept “in principle”.

He said the potential longer-term support measure could be discussed via the Minister’s Agricultural White Paper process, along with other proposals “but that’s not what’s needed now”.

Mr Coulton said the key priorities right now are immediate support to transport water and feed supplies, interest rate subsidies and retaining agricultural workers.

“People have asked if there’s an equivalent of the dole that could be paid to keep workers on farm until things turn around,” he said.

He said another suggestion was tweaking eligibility for concessional loans in the $420 million Farm Finance package to help more farmers affected by drought.

Mr Coulton said at a 4.5 per cent interest, the concessional loans offered little incentive for farmers to shift from a bank loan of 6pc interest.

“We took on a whole heap of thoughts and requests and Barnaby Joyce will sift through all of that now with his department and work out a package,” he said.

Mr Coulton said he’d also spoken to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday about the drought situation and he was “quite aware and quite sympathetic”.

He said while there was an apparent philosophical divide in cabinet over government funding due to the rejection of SPC Ardmona’s request for $25 million in federal government support, he didn’t expect a rift on drought support, given it was a different scenario.

Mr Coulton said the drought was a “natural disaster situation, whereas SPC was more of a business issue”.

He said Minister Joyce also needed support from State government agriculture ministers, particularly to uncertainty in rural communities at the transition away from the traditional Exceptional Circumstances drought support program.

Mr Coulton said his electorate was looking “pretty grim right now” but with no subsoil moisture, farmers and rural communities were also “staring down the barrel” for next year.

“We usually have a party room meeting before parliament starts to work out what’s happening for the year and communicate with each other,” he said.

“I can’t pre-empt what’s going to happen but I’m very concerned about where we’re heading with this drought because it’s grim enough now.

“I think we’ll get something, and I can’t predict what that will be, but there’s a realisation across government that we’re into a serious situation.

“What I’ve been telling people who are contacting me about the drought is they need to get in touch with their financial counsellors.

“State and federal help is available so they need to make that connection with their financial counsellors because if there is a support program they need to be in the system.

“Don’t talk to your neighbour about what’s available, get the right facts.”

Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said Minister Joyce could immediately assist drought affected farming families by restoring the $40 million withheld from the Farm Finance package

He said Labor's scheme was up and running and does what a reconstruction bank should do – shifting farm debt from the commercial banks to the Commonwealth on a low interest/interest only basis.

“Further, there is evidence that the Farm Finance scheme is causing the banks to offer farmers a better deal in a quest to maintain the debt on their own books,” he said.

“Barnaby Joyce continues to publicly call on his cabinet colleagues to act but one simple act by him would make an additional $40 million available immediately.

“Further, a quick and effective response to the growing drought emergency would be to enhance Farm Finance by further lowering the 4.5pc interest rate and adjusting the guidelines to improve access for drought-affected farmers.

“Given the Farm Finance scheme is already operational, the additional money could flow quickly - and for many farm families every day counts.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Bushie Bill
6/02/2014 5:35:28 AM

A good start would be to hand unviable unsustainable land back to the kangaroos. A $7 billion bill (who knows, given the Boof is involved, it could be $7 million?) every time there is a drought is far too high a price for this nation to pay to keep a bunch of agrarian socialists in the whinging business.
6/02/2014 6:29:58 AM

Droughts in Australia and all over the world are not natural disasters, droughts are naturally occurring events that have profound effects on the people, the environment and the economy. As land managers what will you be doing differently into the future from what you have learnt and experienced from this drought and all the other droughts that have passed. Remembering that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.
john from tamworth
6/02/2014 6:55:10 AM

How quickly the Asian food bowl has turned into the Asian dustbowl.We couldn't even feed Thailand.The next grandstanding politician who who advocates increasing agricultural production to feed Asia should be run out of town.The problem is overproduction of commodity type products.Supply needs to shrink substantially.
tim from oakey
6/02/2014 7:17:17 AM

It is too simplistic to say that drought assistance is a hand out and should not be considered. We give assistance to all who are out of work: the dole; and to disabled who cant work called DS Pension, and to retired aged people called, the Aged Pension. None of these people are required to do anything in return. Drought aid can be low interest loans requiring repayment and go to people required to work to maintain their farm, so all the productive assets are not lost to our nation and can return to production with rain at very minimal cost.
Frank Blunt
6/02/2014 8:13:54 AM

What do those Chinese spring rolls taste like Bushie ?
Jen from the Bush
6/02/2014 11:00:44 AM

Yep none for one and none for all. Cut out all pensions other then the aged and really disabled. Get rid of the parasites of Au. They are bleeding Au dry. An while they are at it get rid of holidays for religious beliefs no longer upholded and the extra pay for Sundays etc. Over 1/3rd of Au revenue including loans raised, is spent on welfare and social payouts enabling people to be irresponsible and not care about their situation or actions. Au is going broke, we cannot afford this amt of welfare and social payouts.
7/02/2014 4:44:39 AM

Droughts is a natural event is it, just like flood, earthquake, cyclone etc. Oh, and we should stop farming unviable land. There is no such thing as unviable land you clowns, if somewhere receives less then a third of its annual rainfall then it is in severe strife, even in the daintree rainforest.
Rob Moore
7/02/2014 6:23:48 AM

The problem with the "White paper" is that a dollar saved for the processor or downstream supply chain doesn't mean a $ back to producers. This is very naieve thinking. That is why the Trade Practice Bill PPP must get under way immediately so it can be passed parliament and ready to go by July 1st! We don't have the rest of this year to create COMPETITION which is the ONLY thing that will increse Farmgate returns.It will also make the onslaught of foreign bargain buyers compete instead of dividing and sharing up supply .Bushie the land is unviable BECAUSE of the roos in there 1000's!
7/02/2014 6:29:54 AM

Tim from Oakey, you are correct that we have an obligation to our fellow citizens (though I don't agree that aged pensioners "have done nothing in return" - they've worked a lifetime, brought you up proper-like, paid their taxes - but you suggest that affected land can return to production when it next rains. This may not be the case. It certainly won't be back to business as usual. See for example CSIRO's analysis of options for Australian agriculture: view_file&file_id=CSIRO_CC_Chapte r%207.pdf
7/02/2014 6:42:12 AM

That's fine Logic. But to use your example, what people are saying is that if it continually doesn't rain in the Daintree, then it's not a rainforest. Unviable land is where it more often than not doesn't rain, but agrarians want society to fund hope and socialise the loses. If the industry wants a proper plan for the future then that involves facing up to the tough questions that need be asked. Every comment I read under these articles talks about how these businesses never make any money. No one has truthfully answered are you viable long term or not? No one has answered that.
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