Agforce has urged Federal Government to rethink its drought assistance policy and recognise existing frameworks miss the mark as primary producers across Queensland continue to suffer the worst drought in a generation.
At a meeting in Canberra yesterday with Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, AgForce Chief Executive Officer, Charles Burke, along with representatives of National Farmers’ Federation and NSW Farmers, reiterated the need for drought policy reform so as to better meet the needs of farming families and to quell the impact of drought on rural communities.
“Queensland producers are operating under an unprecedented set of conditions that are well beyond their control or capacity to prepare for and need further effective assistance,” Mr Burke said.
“At yesterday’s meeting, we presented an agreed set of recommendations which require the urgent attention of the Minister and which were aimed at addressing the barriers to those in genuine need of Federal assistance.
“These recommendations are not new and many have been raised previously with the Minister, his office and the Department when existing drought schemes were first introduced and again last year.”
The recommendations presented included:
- Simplifying applications for the Farm Household Allowance and applying farmer-friendly asset and off-farm income tests that don’t act against drought preparedness and management efforts;
- Extending access to the FHA for farm workers so they don’t have to leave employment or the local area to apply;
- Getting better primary lender support and extending repayment periods for concessional loans so repayment is not required before farms have fully recovered from drought;
- Provide greater relief from immediate financing costs by reducing loan interest to be in line with the actual cost to government;
- Extending further funding to enable access to concessional loans for farm-dependent rural businesses;
- Provide further funding for the well-received water infrastructure rebate which addresses animal welfare concerns and could be extended to include resilience-building improvements;
- Provide emergency income to drought-affected local governments, such as grants for infrastructure projects like wild dog and macropod fencing.
Mr Burke said preliminary and distressing results of a drought survey of AgForce members reiterated the need for urgent action.
“With the end of the current northern wet season approaching and with below average rainfall again received in many areas many of our members are facing their fourth season without significant, or even moderate, income,” Mr Burke said.
“We welcome the government’s proposal announced today to deliver an economic stimulus package to provide employment opportunities in drought-affected communities and look to the government to consult with rural groups in developing that proposal.
“However, these current measures miss the mark in terms of what is required and we urge the Minister to complete consideration of our recommendations as soon as possible so as to help ensure farming families who run viable businesses which contribute to our economy are not destroyed by a near unprecedented weather event.”