WA has lost its bid to extend Exceptional Circumstances (EC) assistance for farmers in the northern Wheatbelt.
Agriculture Minister Warren Truss accepted National Drought Taskforce evidence that the WA application for a one-year extension did not meet the eligibility criteria.
"The National Drought Taskforce assessment found the application submitted by the WA Government did not demonstrate a clear continuation of drought conditions through and beyond the better than average 2003 cropping season," he said.
The northern Wheatbelt EC region ran from Yuna to Southern Cross and included the Mukinbudin shire and some of the Chapman Valley, Dalwallinu, Koorda, Morawa, Mt Marshall, Mullewa, Nungarin, Perenjori, Westonia and Yilgarn shires.
The two-year EC declaration for the area expired in March and an application for an extension was made in February, after the Agriculture Department was made aware extensions to expired declarations were possible.
Mr Truss said early forecasts of wheat yields for the 2004 wheat crop for the region ranged from below average to average across shires in the area.
"If seasonal conditions deteriorate, then the WA Government does have the option of submitting a new EC application for producers in part or all of the region later in the year," he said.
He said the application would not be forwarded to the National Rural Advisory Council for further assessment as the prima facie case to extend EC assistance was not substantiated.
Mr Truss said WA farmers had already received $31.7m in EC assistance directly from the Australian Government.
WA has two other EC areas both declared in July last year.
They are the Southern Rangelands area and the central north eastern, central eastern and central south-eastern wheatbelt area.
Both are in year two of EC declaration and would be eligible for the Federal Government's recently announced streamlined re-application process for a roll-over of EC declarations.
Mr Truss said farmers not receiving EC might still be eligible for other Australian Government support such as the AAA Farm Help Program.
Meanwhile the National Farmers Federation (NFF) was sceptical that anything substantial would come from Tuesday's Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC) meeting.
The NFF said that PIMC ministers had agreed to convene the meeting last Tuesday, as Farm Weekly went to press, to review definite costed options for Australia's future National Drought Policy.
"NFF notes the policy prepared for ministers presents broad approaches rather than definite options," NFF drought policy spokesman Charles Burke said.
He hoped that the PIMC meeting would focus on reform elements which had already been agreed on.
One of them was the establishment of a streamlined and simplified EC declaration system that declares exceptional drought on the basis of regional production impacts, rather than the region-scale income effects of drought.
Federal Shadow Agriculture Minister Gavan O'Connor this week promised a Labor Government would speed up EC drought applications and assessments.
Mr Burke said the current mood of bipartisanship between the government and Labor could push national drought policy reform to a conclusion this year.