Drought fund dry as political goodwill rains down on farmers

Drought fund dry as political goodwill rains down on farmers


Farm Online News
Photo AAP / Dean Lewins.

Photo AAP / Dean Lewins.

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Drought policy stuck in the doldrums as the government and Opposition accuse each other of playing politics.

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The future drought fund is dry as politicians' goodwill rains down on farmers.

Drought policy is set to stay stuck in the doldrums as the government and Opposition pledge support for rural communities and politicians accuse each other of playing politics.

Scott Morrison has declared himself the 'Prime Minister for drought' and now he has Labor wedged between his drought policy and their legacy infrastructure fund.

Mr Morrison held a Bush Summit in Dubbo last week, convened a national drought forum last November, and reintroduced a Bill for the Future Drought Fund to the new parliament.

The government says the policy is needed to help farmers in drought.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has pledged to support "any level" of funding for farmers, but won't bring his party's votes to support the government's Bill - which re-brands the former Labor government's Building Australia Fund as the Drought Future Fund.

The $5 billion Drought Future Fund is a preparedness initiative which would deliver $100m of funding a year, starting in 2020.

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Labor and Greens Leader Richard Di Natale have accused the government of creating a Nationals party slush fund that could be used to benefit big agribusiness, and said it was a raid on the Building Australia infrastructure fund.

Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon criticised the Coalition's drought support to date, and said its current policy was motivated by publicity and promoting a " big number" of funding.

"We are seven years into a drought and the government has produced nothing that has given any meaningful assistance to farmers," he said.

"There has been no detail on that whatsoever. But most importantly we still don't understand why the government wants to take money away from important infrastructure projects, roads, rail et cetera including in regional Australia to pay for another important measure."

Drought and Water Minister David Littleproud said the Building Australia Fund wasn't required under the Coalition government, which had instituted alternate infrastructure funding.

"That Building Australia Fund hasn't paid a dividend for five years. We've got $100b in infrastructure that we are spending in the regions," Mr Littleproud said.

"This is why people hate politicians. Get out of the way, who's side is this mob on? They are politicising the misery of Australian farmers."

Mr Littleproud rejected Labor's slush fund allegation, arguing the Drought Future Fund's expenditure would be developed in consultation with an expert panel and governmental oversight.

"The poor buggers can't read the legislation," Mr Littleproud said.

"The measures would be tabled in the Senate as a disallowable instrument."

In the lead up to the federal election Labor proposed an alternate drought measure, funded with $100m a year from consolidated revenue.

Mr Albanese said that in this parliament he would support the Bill if the government detailed how the drought funds would be spent and maintained the Building Australia fund.

"Don't play politics with this. It is too important. Just stop it. Provide funding with appropriations as you should and we'll back it. Any level you want. Done."

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