A CALL for exit assistance for drought-affected farmers has failed to win the support of the Australian Labor Party.
Exit packages, low interest loans and council rates assistance are among a raft of relief measures being proposed for drought-affected farmers by the National Farmers Federation.
The NFF proposed the measures to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other senior government ministers last night.
However, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources Joel Fitzgibbon has suggested the Federal Government should reject the NFF’s exit assistance proposal, deliver a National Drought Plan and declare immediate and meaningful drought assistance.
“Struggling farming families need to know their government is standing with them, not plotting their demise,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“In the absence of a broader drought plan, the Prime Minister should reject the exit assistance proposal the National Farmers’ Federation is now advocating.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the Productivity Commission rejected exit assistance grants in its extensive 2009 report on Government Drought Support. He called on Mr Morrison to declare that he will not give up on our farmers, rural workers and the nation’s food and fibre systems, release Coordinator-General for Drought, Major General Stephen Day’s report and convene a drought cabinet.
The Federal Government is considering the NFF’s proposals and its new drought policy, with a response expected in the coming weeks.
“We appreciate the work the National Farmers’ Federation has put into the drought response and we will continue to work with them.”
“The National Farmers’ Federation drought report will be considered by cabinet,” Mr Littleproud said.
The NFF said it met with Mr Morrison to discuss assistance for farmers and communities managing the drought and a long-term policy to guide the nation’s response to future droughts. Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud and deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack also attended the meeting.
“It’s critically important that we focus on assisting those impacted by this drought and to act now, as a nation, to ensure we are better prepared for the inevitable droughts of the future,” NFF president Fiona Simson said.
As a result of consultation with its members, the NFF has proposed the following immediate measures, for consideration by government:
- Exit packages for farming families looking to exit farming, after an assessment of their long-term viability
- Support for local council rate relief
- Commonwealth Government subsidises for the payroll expenses of farming businesses equal to the Newstart Allowance to support local communities
- Top-up payments of at least $2000 per child to the Assistance for Isolated Children allowance, and additional funding for rural schools and additional support for early learning services in severely drought-affected communities
- A two-year interest free period for Regional Investment Corporation Drought loans
- An increased federal-state focus on the eradication of feral pigs, which are a biosecurity risk and a highly destructive pest, particularly in drought.
Ms Simson said the Prime Minister, the deputy Prime Minister and Minister Littleproud understood the gravity of the current drought situation.
She said the NFF appreciated the opportunity to discuss further measures to assist farmers and communities in the management of what is now one of the worst droughts in living memory.
“Drought is complex, it is not the same for any one farm business, family or community. While one support mechanism will suit someone, for another it might not be the right fit or they may not be eligible.
“The NFF acknowledges the measures already in place at federal and state levels,” Ms Simson said.
“The additional six measures proposed by the NFF are designed to complement these and together, address the varying circumstances farmers and agricultural-reliant communities are facing right now.”
A week ago the NFF provided the government its newly-endorsed National Drought Policy, a proposed Commonwealth framework for a more strategic approach to preparing for managing and recovering from drought into the future. The meeting was the first opportunity to talk through the long-term policy.
“We spoke to the Prime Minister about a new long-term constructive approach to future drought policy that enhances and builds on the current National Drought Agreement.
“It is important to be clear, that NFF’s National Drought Policy is not about this current drought, but rather a new, more strategic approach to managing droughts into the future,” Ms Simson said.
“We acknowledge the current National Drought Agreement.
“The NFF’s policy provides a more detailed description of the roles, responsibilities, expectations and accountabilities outlined in the Agreement of all stakeholders including the Commonwealth, states and industry – an approach the Prime Minister welcomed.”
The NFF understands the policy will be now discussed at a meeting of state and territory agriculture ministers next week.
“We want all levels of government to support this approach and we will continue to talk to the Federal Government and their state counterparts, to encourage the policy’s adoption.”