Rush is on for drought relief package

03 Dec, 2014 10:19 AM
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9
 
You’ll be surprised how quickly it’ll happen

A GOVERNMENT announcement about the new $100 million assistance package to help drought affected farmers in Queensland and NSW is imminent.

It’s understood the government’s Expenditure Review Committee met this week and has approved terms for a package of low interest concessional loans of up to $1 million at an interest rate of 3.21 per cent over a 10-year period.

A government source said the terms of the package are designed to support those farmers in parts of Qld and NSW suffering 1 in 100-year and 1 in 50-year drought events.

National party MPs Mark Coulton and Bruce Scott have recently called for more urgent assistance to help those farmers replant and restock when the prolonged drought breaks, by redirecting underspent funds from the $420 million Farm Finance Package.

Last week federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government was continuing work on a package and details of its delivery through various State agencies.

“What I can say is, it really is imminent,” he said.

“I’ve been in close negotiation with my colleagues, I know exactly when it’s going to be and you’ll be surprised how quickly it’ll happen.

“I’ve always said before the year’s out and it’s going to happen before the year’s out and if it doesn’t you can have another press conference and drag me backwards and forth through the prickles and kick the crap out of me.”

Plenty of noise

National Farmers Federation (NFF) president Brent Finlay said three weeks ago a lot of noise was made about an imminent $100 million drought support package, but had since gone quiet.

Mr Finlay said the low interest loans would be welcomed but he was unsure what was holding up any announcement.

“I thought they were a happening thing,” he said.

“But the only thing that will really fix this situation now is rain because the drought goes on and on and the drought spreads.”

Mr Finlay said he hoped Mr Joyce’s attendance alongside outspoken radio host Alan Jones at a rural debt crisis meeting at Winton in Queensland this Friday would provide an ideal opportunity to announce the $100 million package.

However, he also cautioned against raising expectations at the meeting, given the severity of ongoing challenges facing farmers and community members likely to attend.

This Friday's meeting has been organised by Queensland independent MP Bob Katter.

Data is ready

Last month Mr Joyce announced $30 million in drought support loans for Victorian farmers with the guidelines to be finalised between the two respective governments.

He is also currently considering the final report received last week from the Australian Bankers Association (ABA), on the veracity of rural debt data.

The report stems from a rural debt roundtable meeting in Canberra in late September involving key farm groups, banks and government stakeholders that agreed to ascertain more accurate and factual data on the scope of the rural debt problem.

It’s understood the ABA’s report reveals that the number of farm properties in northern Queensland that are 90 days in arrears for payments on bank loans has climbed from 1.9 per cent in 2012 to 3.4pc in June 2014 – above the nationwide average of 3pc.

At the rural debt roundtable, Mr Joyce also committed to following up on a request for the government to consider whether changes to the current concessional loans scheme are warranted.

He recently said his department had confirmed that close to $100 million was unspent in the first round of the Farm Finance concessional loans program for the 2013–14 financial year.

“I have spoken with my government colleagues and asked my department to explore the possibility that these funds could be used to assist those experiencing a one in 100-year drought, with any potential new measure to complement the existing Farm Finance and Drought Concessional Loan programs,” he said.

“There is no quick or easy fix when it comes to drought, however, this government remains committed to doing what we reasonably can to assist farmers, even with the difficult budget situation we currently face.”

Drought 'hot spots'

Mr Scott said government members had been working hard to secure greater support for those farmers battling extreme drought in “hot spot” areas.

He said the government had already delivered strong support through the $320 million drought loans program announced early in the year.

But finding more immediate funding was a challenge, due to the large debt inherited by the Coalition coming to office after six years of the former Labor government, he said.

“It’s the extended drought areas that worry me the most, these hot spots that after Christmas will go into their third year of drought,” he said.

“It’s a very grim situation and as we go into Christmas I’d like to think we can do more to support these communities.”

Mr Scott said the ongoing drought and financial impacts of the former Labor government’s ban on live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011, lowering land values and increasing debt, has “multiplied” the problems that farmers are now facing.

He said businesses in rural towns were also suffering due to the lack of income from cattle production and other forms of agriculture.

“Commerce has almost ground to a halt in many of these towns in north-west and central Queensland,” he said.

“When there’s no livestock and no feed for the livestock there’s also no money and income to sustain these businesses.”

Mr Scott said he’d received recent calls from some local council bodies in his Maranoa electorate, saying they were 30pc in arrears on rate payments, which was another indicator of the drought’s severity and “roll on” effects.

Drought package 'failure': Fitzgibbon

Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said Coalition members representing rural and regional seats had been “lining up to declare the minister's Drought Assistance Package for farmers a failure”.

“The Minister's only response is to continually promise to put more money into the fund,” he said.

“The problem is that he cannot spend the money already in the fund.

“It is time for the Minister to concede that his drought package is a failure and to think about some new directions.”

Mr Fitzgibbon said the government needed to consider a practical loans scheme that doesn’t differentiate between regions “and is properly weighted so that discrimination does not occur”.

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

Steve
3/12/2014 11:24:55 AM

Mr Finlay - as the boss of NFF, you don't wait for these things to happen (drought relief package), you get off your butt and make it happen.
Qlander
3/12/2014 11:45:53 AM

Must be about to rain.
Bushie Bill
4/12/2014 9:30:18 AM

The best drought relief package would be to remove all lifestyle unsustainable non-viable dirt scratchers from their land, thus relieving them of their misery and relieving the rest of us from their whingeing and incessant demands for financial support. Win-win. Let us put a stop to the myth that fly-botherers are special people. They are simply a group of socialists determined to rip off the rest of the country and world for their own benefit. Time to treat them as they deserve to be treated. Work for a living or die in a ditch. Your choice.
THE FARMER
5/12/2014 9:38:03 AM

Bill once again is wasting oxygen & space .
Frank Blunt
5/12/2014 10:26:09 AM

The only one doing all the whinging Bill is you. I guess you must be one of the flies.
MichaelB
5/12/2014 12:45:27 PM

Go Bushie!!!
Bushie Bill
5/12/2014 1:59:53 PM

And like the blowflies to the fresh lump of the proverbial, the agsocs will flock to lay their claims to other people's money, swearing on the bible, the koran, the the National Party Manifesto or whatever that they are not seeking handouts. Insulting my intelligence and everyone else with an IQ above their boot size.
Frank Blunt
5/12/2014 2:54:41 PM

I see one of the other blowflies has turned up Bill, your mate, MichaelB. How's Cecil by the way? Everything honky dory at home?
jen from the bush
5/12/2014 9:46:34 PM

Good enough for Brisbane to get a whopping big handout for a storm, it is good enough for farmers to also be given one. Brisbane's handout just joins all the other subsidies paid to urban communities - bitumen roads, bridges, dams, pools, schools, hospital and medical aid, police, unis, sports centers,power, transport, libraries, set wages and benefits, dole, supporting mothers pensions etc etc etc. Yep a little coming back is long overdue especially after Ludwig's bash at killing the beef industry.

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