Positive reaction to federal drought aid package

Beef Central, 27/02/2014

Tony Abbott’s $320m drought package announced yesterday has been well received by most rural groups and farming organisations. Here’s a snapshot of some of the reaction that followed his announcement yesterday.

National Farmers’ Federation’s president Brent Finlay: “The announcement demonstrates that the Government has listened to the NFF’s call for a short-term drought relief package, and consequently, has delivered many of the measures proposed by the NFF.

"The measures delivered will address many issues faced by farmers in drought, including rising debt levels, capacity to make household payments, limited water for livestock, personal stress, and managing pest animals.

“While some of the measures called on by the NFF were not included, such as rural workforce assistance and the delivery of independent professional advice, the NFF will continue to focus efforts on longer-term drought policy reform.”

“The long-term policy void is not good for farmers, the Government or the broader community. We need a drought policy framework that focuses on preparedness but also recognises that in-event and recovery support is sometimes needed.”

NSW Farmers President Fiona Simson: “We estimate that drought is affecting 60 percent of NSW and that this is increasing.

“The more generous criteria for accessing income support sounds encouraging but we are yet to see the details.

“We are seeking farm assets to be excluded as was the case under exceptional circumstances. These assets determine the future income generating capacity of a farm and will assist farmers recover from drought.

“NSW Farmers is also pleased the federal government is allocating $10.7 million to social and mental health services, extending the water infrastructure grants and also providing a $10 million pest management program.”

Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey: “The concessional loan scheme will be crucial to the recovery of drought-ravaged farming families in NSW and Queensland, but it’s good to see the government has introduced longer term measures that will help all farmers facing future droughts.

“One of the key reforms for all farmers is opening up access to household support (the equivalent of the Newstart Allowance) for farming families that have virtually no farm income during prolonged droughts.

“From next Monday farm families will be able to gain access to household support (the Farm Household Allowance) if their net farm assets are valued at less than $2.55 million. That’s a marked improvement on $1.5m, under the old test.

“The government has also eased the off-farm income test, allowing families to offset that income against interest payments on farm debt. It recognises that during drought, farming families become far more reliant on off-farm income, but much of this income goes straight into paying off farm debt.”

AgForce Queensland chief executive officer Charles Burke: “It is vitally important that these funds are now distributed as soon as possible and that access to this assistance is streamlined without the need for onerous paperwork by applicants.”

“The announced changes in asset test eligibility for income support acknowledge the unique circumstances of farmers and will help to increase the number of farmers that will be able to access these funds.
“With less than 50 per cent success rate for loan applicants in past rounds of the Farm Finance Loan Scheme, the effectiveness in providing interest cost relief will largely depend on improving access to the scheme. “

Shadow minister for agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon: “Labor supports the drought package announced.
“But it is news struggling drought affected farming families should have heard a month ago and it’s a move Labor has been urging for weeks.

“Unfortunately, questions remain about the extent to which eligibility criteria will be relaxed for both the concessional loans scheme and the farm household support payment.  These questions need to be clarified urgently.

“The other outstanding issue is long-term drought reform, a process Labor began but the Abbott Government has not progressed in six months. 

“Indeed, one of the Abbott’s Governments first acts was the abolition of the COAG vehicle responsible for drought reform. Farmers deserve to know what future drought assistance measures will look like.”

Federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter: “Whilst what the LNP has released today is essentially a good gesture and a step in the right direction, it is the very minor tip of the iceberg and much more is needed.

“How is this package going to help a sixth generation cattle family that I spoke to yesterday, who is facing the choice of paying their mortgage or feeding their starving cattle?

“In early 2012, the average farm debt in Queensland was $700,000, this has now surged to an average of $1.2 million per farm.

“Even if Queensland gets a substantial slice of the pie here, we estimate that this funding commitment would save a mere dozen farmers.”



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