NFF releases drought package, urges swift Govt response

Beef Central, 13/02/2014

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has today released the detail of the proposed drought relief measures it wants the Federal Government to immediately adopt to address the severe drought situation being faced by many farmers and rural communities.

NFF President Brent Finlay says farm businesses need a fair shot at getting back on their feet and returning to the viable and productive businesses they are.

The proposed suite of drought relief measures, developed in recent months in consultation with State Farm Organisations and national commodity councils, was not about handouts, but rather asks for “a logical step forward to help viable Australian businesses during a very tough time”.

The NFF remained strongly committed to long-term drought policy solutions that drove preparedness for farm businesses in future, Mr Finlay said, but the current severe drought meant the agricultural sector, which generated $38b in export earnings for Australia every year, needed support now and outdated eligibility criteria was preventing access for many who deserve it.

The NFF is recommending that Government support be updated to include labour wage assistance, realistic eligibility criteria for existing programs, and the improvement of social services (to view the NFF's full drought relief policy document click here).

“Every farmer across Australia takes conditions like drought and other natural disasters into consideration in the operation of their business—they prepare and do their best to manage farms in weather outside of their control,” Mr Finlay said.

“This drought is simply a situation that the best planning could not prepare them for, and there are devastating effects on entire communities.

“We need to ensure drought relief—as would be the case with any natural disaster—supports these farmers, their families and communities. The provision of this assistance is a matter of priority for the Government to action immediately.”

The new policy comes as two State Farm Organisations, AgForce Queensland and the NSW Farmers Association, call for faster Government action on drought relief.

AgForce General President, Ian Burnett, said with approximately 70 per cent of Queensland, equating to 6500 rural properties, in drought, support from the Federal Government was now critical.

“Agriculture is a long-term viable industry which has achieved excellent productivity gains in the past and does not receive much direct assistance or tariff protection from the Government relative to our overseas competitors,” Mr Burnett said.

“We are one of the key pillars of the Australian economy, however we are now faced with a circumstance that is well beyond what could be reasonably expected of our primary producers to prepare for within their business modelling.

“We most certainly recognise the need for long-term drought policy solutions to encourage an even greater ability for our industry to prepare for such events however, given the brutality of this drought, our farmers are vulnerable with most not able to qualify for even basic emergency welfare assistance.

“We urge Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and his Cabinet colleagues to recognise the need to help enable our industry to move beyond this drought.”

NSW Farmers has welcomed the NSW Government’s announcement that it will extend drought assistance to 21 new areas in NSW.

But it said the process had to be sped up.

“The government should see this as an investment in farming in NSW,” said NSW Farmers President Fiona Simson.

“Farmers have been preparing and managing through drought for more than 12 months.

“We have had reports that people have spent more than half a million dollars managing this drought. You wouldn’t spend that much unless you believe you can continue to make a business out of farming when the drought breaks.

“Farmers have been making the tough decisions in selling stock, not planting crops and buying in feed. It is good to see the state government has finally come to the party and made a decision.

“But it cannot rest on its laurels. This announcement means 52 percent of the state can receive assistance but the feedback from our members suggests more than 60 percent of the state is suffering drought.

“The government knows the current situation because we have been putting it in front of them for months. What we don’t want is another protracted process for getting measures approved if more areas move into drought.

“Some of the areas such as the far west unincorporated area had additional information collected two months ago – why should it take that long for a decision?

“The government needs to make the drought triggers and process transparent so all farmers can understand how these decisions are made.

“Part of the issue is that farmers are not being given and acknowledgement of the situation they are in. Four years ago it was called a drought, now the government wants to avoid the word. Call a drought a drought and let people know what the criteria are for being in drought.

“Farmers and the farmers in the north west and announced these in-drought measures. But we must realise that the battle for our farmers is not over yet. They are still living it every day,” Ms Simson said.

  • To view a two-page summary of the National Farmers' Federation proposed drought package click here, to view the full proposed drought package document click here



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