AGRICULTURE Minister Barnaby Joyce says the $320 million drought package containing tailored drought support programs, combined with the $420 million Farm Finance concessional loan scheme, means farmers have access to significant support as drought and dry conditions bite deeper.
In a statement this week, he said more than 4200 farmers are better able to pay their household bills and already 89 farm businesses are managing their debt and day-to-day expenses on an improved footing as a result of the Coalition government’s drought package.
“Back in February, when the Prime Minister and I announced this national package, there were no specific support measures in place to assist farmers experiencing drought,” he said.
“In fact, when we came to office, not only was there no targeted drought assistance in place, there were only eight Farm Finance concessional loans approved and only 367 farming families receiving income support on the basis of financial hardship.
“Under Labor, their income support program was limited to 12 months and had an extremely restrictive assets test.
“When we came to government it was clear that our farmers would need a greater level of support and we have addressed this.
“This government moved to increase the net assets test and extend payments to a period of up to 36 months in total.”
Mr Joyce said proof that the Coalition government’s policies are working can be seen in the “considerable increase” in people accessing income support, concessional loans and other support services.
“I am proud that the measures the Prime Minister and I announced 10 months ago are helping those that they were designed to help,” he said.
The government said its assistance is reaching farming families and farm businesses in need with: Over $53.8 million worth of drought concessional loans already approved (as at October 31, 2014); Over $152 million worth of Farm Finance concessional loans approved (as at September 30, 2014); 4210 farmers and their partners receiving Farm Household Allowance (as at November 7); With an additional $3.5 million announced today, $14.2 million has now been committed for enhanced social support services across some of the hardest hit areas in New South Wales and Queensland. More than 700 people have accessed direct mental health support, over 8000 people have attended community events and almost 200 referrals to other services have been made; $22 million has been allocated for vital emergency water infrastructure with funds provided to New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia; $10 million allocated to improve pest management efforts across rural Australia, again with funds provided to New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.
Helping farming families
Mr Joyce said the government was committed to making sure farming families and farm businesses get the assistance they need so that agriculture can continue to make its important contribution to Australia now and into the future.
“Our farming families feed and clothe us – and many others around the world,” he said.
“We need to make sure that we help viable farm businesses through conditions that are now, in some parts of Australia, equivalent to a one in 100-year drought event.
“We also need to make sure we give those farming families that are struggling to make ends meet help to put food on the table.
“These farmers can’t just up and get a job in town because, despite little or no income, they are working day and night to keep their remaining stock alive.
“While Labor sits back and criticises, the Coalition is delivering a well-designed and targeted drought package that is reaching farming families in need,” he said.
“I am fully aware that the drought conditions continue to deepen and therefore we continue to look at options to better assist those most in need into the future.
“I urge any farming family or farm business not to self assess their eligibility for any of the measures that are now available and to talk to an expert such as their local Rural Financial Counselling Service or regional drought co-ordinator, or call the Farmer Assistance Hotline on 132 316 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm local time).
“Minister for Human Services Marise Payne and I have successfully reduced the number of forms required and we will continue to look for options to streamline the application process wherever possible.
“The online claim form is also able to pre-populate where a person’s information has previously been recorded.”