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State farm organisations welcome $190m Federal drought support package

Beef Central, 05/08/2018

 

THE Federal Government’s emergency drought support package announced earlier today has been enthusiastically welcomed by producer bodies at state and federal level.

Visiting Trangie in NSW this morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced additional financial support worth $190 million to help drought-affected farmers, with an emergency ‘special’ payment for producers who are under intense financial strain due to relentless drought conditions.

The payments to eligible farmers, to help put food on the table and meet essential household expenses, will be made through the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) scheme.

Currently, those on the FHA scheme can access a payment equivalent to the unemployment benefit, worth about $16,000 a year. Today’s announcement provides households battling drought with additional lump-sum payments up to $12,000 for couples, with single households receiving an additional $7200. The payments will mean that farmers and their families will be better supported to cover their everyday costs and reduce some of the pressures they face in managing their farms and providing basic essentials for their families.

The first payment will be made at the start of August, with the second on 1 March next year.

Today’s Federal Government package will also include extra funding for mental health support, and brings the Government’s spending on drought measures to $576 million.

Mr Turnbull said the drought was the worst in many decades, and the cash payments would help provide some relief to families.

In recent years federal policy has been focused on ‘drought proofing’ and preparedness for dry periods. Federal assistance, apart from the basic unemployment payment, has been offered on the basis of loans rather than subsidies or cash payments.

But the Government’s statement today on the new changes recognises the current dry period is “one of the worst droughts of the past century,” with parts of NSW receiving record low rainfall for the year to date.

The Federal Government has already extended the time period to receive the FHA from three to four years.

After consulting with farming groups, the eligibility criteria for accessing the FHA will also be relaxed so people with up to $5 million net assets will still be able to apply. Previously the cut-off was $2.6 million.

“This will help farmers, who may be notionally asset rich but cash poor, access additional support without having to jeopardise the income-producing capacity of their farm by selling farm equipment,” the government’s statement said.

The Government this morning also committed to investing an extra $5 million in the Rural Financial Counselling Service, which will provide additional support for farmers – particularly those applying for the FHA for the first time; and$11.4 million in mental health support initiatives including additional funding for Primary Health Networks in drought affected areas to cope with increased demand.

“We will stand with Australia’s farming families every step of the way as they cope with this devastating drought: listening, caring, responding and delivering,” Mr Turnbull said.

“We can’t make it rain. But we can ensure that farming families and their communities get all the support they need to get through the drought, recover and get back on their feet.”

SFO response

The NSW Farmers’ Association and Queensland’s AgForce both welcomed the federal government’s announcement.

NSW Farmers president James Jackson, said his organisation was pleased that a key issue raised with the Government – that the assets test was too low and disqualified many farmers in real need- had been addressed in the announcement.

“The value of land and the costs of operating machinery have risen significantly in recent years and this has placed on-farm total asset value above the current threshold. A level that has not changed in the last four years,” he said.

“We also welcome the increased funding for The Rural Financial Councillor network. They are not financial advisers, they are local people with sound financial knowledge who can work closely with individual farmers to help them work through their options and make applications for any of the State or Australian Government initiatives and concessional loans.”

“We would also like farmers to be aware that the Rural Financial Councillors services come at no cost to them,” Mr Jackson said.

Until it rains, the physical and emotional pressures will mount as farmers continue to make difficult decisions. The increased funding to support mental wellbeing and improved access to general health would help to maintain strength and resilience in local communities, NSW Farmers said.

“NSW Farmers urges both levels of Government to make sure that local communities also have affordable access to emergency services and local doctors to monitor and address health matters to reduce the potential for these issues to escalate,” Mr Jackson said.

“We look forward to sitting down and working with the government on more targeted drought measures.”

AgForce Queensland also welcomed the announcement of additional Government financial support.

General president Grant Maudsley said more than half of Queensland was still drought-declared, and the prolonged nature of the drought in the state was taking an enormous financial, emotional and environmental toll on many regional communities.

“Parts of western and southern Queensland have been in drought for more than six years, which has overwhelmed even the best efforts of producers to prepare,” he said.

“These emergency cash payments will help those farmers who have had little or no income, while the changes to the asset cap will ensure more farmers are eligible for assistance.

“AgForce has been advocating for many years for the asset threshold to be lifted so this announcement today will make a big difference to many drought-affected farming families.

The extra funding for the Rural Financial Counselling Service was also very welcome, Mr Maudsley said, and AgForce urged farmers to use the service and seek advice on how to apply for the Farm Household Allowance.

Private sector support

Mr Maudsley also commended the private sector organisations, charities, media outlets and individuals who had continued to provide support for drought-affected communities.

“It has been extremely heartening to see Australians rally around our farmers and rural communities during these tough times,” he said.

AgForce would continue to advocate for further measures to provide relief to drought affected communities including investment in capital works projects, council rates and land rent rebates, and increased education support for children from remote areas.

“Drought has such a big impact on Australian agriculture and extended dry periods are a recurring feature so we need governments at all levels and politicians on all sides to come together with industry to work on a sustainable approach to managing this issue now and into the future,” he said.

National Farmers’ Federation chief executive officer Tony Mahar said the Government’s support was a step in the right direction, but added there was no silver bullet.

“The money will help farmers deal with what are challenging times at the moment and help them manage and improve their production systems once we get through this drought. We’re going through a really tough time, but when we come out of it, it will be important that farmers are set up and ready to take advantage of all the good opportunities that we know are out there,” Mr Mahar said.

In June, Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud announced a review of the Farm Household Allowance, which provides help for farmers facing hardship during drought.

Under the new arrangements farmers can now receive a fourth year of assistance from the FHA, when previously they could receive three years’ of assistance.

“The Farm Household Allowance has helped almost 8000 of Australia’s approximately 80,000 farmers over the past four years, as we’ve invested $230 million,” Minister Littleproud said.

However the Department of Agriculture estimated that there may be 19,000 farmers eligible for Farm Household Allowance who had not yet applied for it.

The Federal Government says another phase of drought support will be announced in coming weeks.

 

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Comments

  1. Mark Minnis, 07/08/2018

    A total farce by the weak government we have they can give 450 million to the barrier reef group but find it complex to give to farmers i think this governments days are numbered due to pride and arrogance

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