Reform of Australia’s drought policy is a step closer with Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments today agreeing on the framework for a new national drought package focussed on risk management and preparedness rather than crisis management.
Agriculture minister Joe Ludwig said the new national framework, scheduled to be implemented from July 2014, will help farmers pro-actively address risks and prepare for challenges associated with drought.
“Today’s agreement is an important step forward for drought management in this country,” Mr Ludwig said in a press release issued Friday afternoon.
“Drought is part and parcel of Australia’s climate, but its effects represent one of the biggest challenges to our agriculture sector.
“The new drought package agreed on today will assist producers, industry and government to get on the front foot. This move to preparedness will mean stronger, more resilient farming and grazing businesses.”
Primary industries ministers from across the country agreed at the Standing Council of Primary Industries (SCoPI) meeting in New Zealand that a new package should include:
- a farm household support payment;
- promotion of Farm Management Deposits and taxation measures;
- a national approach to farm business training;
- a coordinated, collaborative approach to the provision of social support services; and
- tools and technologies to inform farmer decision making.
There would be national cooperation and coordination to deliver the package, Mr Ludwig said.
Ministers also requested further consideration be given to in-drought support consistent with agreed reform principles.
Mr Ludwig said programs included in the new package will be available at all times, without the need for a drought or Exceptional Circumstances declaration.
“The Government is committed to putting in place the right policies to assist farming families cope with the effects of drought into the future,” he said.
However, until the new programs are implemented there will still be assistance available to farming families suffering hardship.
This includes the Transitional Farm Family Payment, which provides up to 12 months of income support as well as individualised case management to help families in hardship improve their long term security. The payment is available with or without an EC declaration.
In addition, Exceptional Circumstances assistance through the EC Relief Payment will still be available if an area is EC-declared prior to the new programs being implemented.
Farmers are also eligible for the Farm Management Deposits Scheme to help manage fluctuations in their income, and can also access the Rural Financial Counselling Service.
Implementation is scheduled from 1 July 2014, subject to each government agreeing to the package through their normal budget processes. Details of the programs in the package will be announced as Commonwealth, State and Territory Budgets are finalised.
The National Farmers’ Federation said that while the outcome was a step in the right direction, greater commitment to action was needed.
“In the lead-up to today’s meeting, the NFF worked with the Federal Government to ensure the drought policy decision found the right balance between allowing farmers to build their own self-reliance, through risk management and preparedness, and ensuring appropriate assistance is available to farmers in cases of severe or prolonged drought,” NFF president Jock Laurie said.
“We believe an effective drought policy must focus on both preparing farmers for the next drought during the good seasons, and acknowledging that there may be periods of drought in the future that will require more than an ad-hoc policy response.
“Today, the Ministers have shown that they are listening by committing that their respective Governments will look at a range of drought preparedness and response measures, including farm household support payments, promoting Farm Management Deposits and taxation measures, farm business training, social support services and tools and technologies to inform farmer decision making – all things the NFF and our members have been asking the Government to enact," Mr Laurie said.
“While this is a step in the right direction, we want to see greater commitment to implementing these measures, plus in-drought business support measures. It has taken five years to get to this point – we cannot wait another five years until there’s a policy outcome on drought."
While the Bureau of Meteorology had now downgraded its prediction of a return to El Niño, as farmers knew, the next drought is a case of when, not if – and it was essential the right policy is in place well ahead of the next big dry, he said.