OPINION: TWO things have been worrying me lately about the deepening drought faced by many in Queensland and NSW.
One is the stories I'm hearing that there is no support available for people on the land doing it tough. I'll return to this in a moment.
The second is that the Government has been copping flak from some quarters for supposedly giving too much to farmers, and that drought presents an opportunity to rationalise (read shut down) holdings.
I strongly reject this view – viable farmers must be given a chance to both prepare for and then survive drought.
Most farmers have assets which would normally preclude them from getting social security payments when their farm income falls to zero because of a drought or another natural disaster.
But the reality is farmers still have to work and live during a drought, and some have to work harder feeding stock and carting water than they do in good seasons. The problem is they don’t get paid for it.
Farmers can make some preparations for drought, but that does not mean we should be abandoning those who are viable in the long-term during difficult periods. Given the disastrous state of the Federal Budget left us by the Labor Party, we are constrained in what we can do.
But it is important to understand there is already assistance available for farming families.
These measures are not confined to drought and do not require a drought declaration in any given area to be accessed.
Transitional Farm Family Payments provide income support paid fortnightly equivalent to Newstart to help farming families in financial difficulty regardless of their location or cause of difficulties. Farm Finance Concessional Loans are available to eligible farm businesses for debt restructuring or productivity enhancement. Free and confidential financial counselling through the Rural Financial Counselling Service for farmers suffering financial hardship. Farm Management Deposits provides a range of tax concessions such as income averaging and deferral of profits from the forced disposal or death of livestock. Health Care Cards are available to eligible farmers from the Department of Human Services, and the Parental Income Test for Youth Allowance.
Changes to the way governments respond to drought were agreed to by all governments early last year. A new program called Farm Household Allowance starts on 1 July.
We should let the new system bed down, but if changes are required I will be happy to work with all parties to ensure farmers get the support they need.
Barnaby Joyce is the Minister for Agriculture and the deputy leader of the Nationals.