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Prime Minister tackles deepening drought crisis ‘head on’

25 September 2007

A STRONG $714 million commitment today from the Prime Minister on the need to tackle Australia’s deepening drought crisis ‘head on’ is very much welcomed by the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and all Australian farmers.

“Most people would be aware this drought is biting hard, but what many simply could not fathom is that the drought management practices farmers put in place, even on the most state-of-the-art farms, are approaching breaking point,” NFF President David Crombie said.

“Over the past year, the NFF has been at great pains not to be alarmist in the face of the worst drought on record, stressing the resilience of Australia’s technologically advanced and environmentally-sustainable farm sector. We are unmoved from that focus.

“However, the desperate situation confronting farm families is unprecedented, and becoming more serious by the day, in the wake of failed winter rains.

“The measures the Prime Minister announced in his crisis response today sensibly target the protection of Australia’s vital agricultural productive base, while supporting farm families.

“The Exceptional Circumstances (EC) drought ‘safety net’ – which basically puts food on the table and keeps the wolf from the door in paying the bills – has been made more flexible to better reflect the crisis and catch more families.

“Meanwhile, a Murray-Darling Basin specific response targets irrigators, who face zero water allocations over spring, to secure their productive base, which accounts for 40% of Australia’s food output.

“Support for small businesses in drought-affected areas is a holistic response. The knock-on effects of drought are severely stretching regional businesses, contractors, and entire communities... everyone suffers in this crisis, not only farmers. This move protects businesses and services in regional areas.

“As we have already seen over the past year, drought can take an emotional, as well as financial, toll, placing individuals, families and local communities under extraordinary stress. Helping people cope under such duress is essential and today’s package commits more resources to helping alleviate the pressures.

“Lastly, a drought of this depth and length will certainly have longer-term structural implications for the farm sector. Targeted measures for those farmers unable to continue in the sector, who wish to move on, will be provided with professional advice and decision-making support. This is prudent.

“Today’s package represents an unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis in Australia. It is appropriate because much is at stake.

“The drought has already slashed three-quarters of a percent off Australia’s national economic growth. Our farming base supports 1.6 million Australian jobs – more than half in the cities, covering retail, wholesale, transport, processing, packaging and other sectors. It accounts for 20% of our national exports ($30 billion a year) and over half of the daily food needs of the Australian population.

“Ensuring we appropriately tackle the ‘here-and-now’ crisis must be our first priority.”

[ENDS]

Australian farmers. An important part of Australia's future.

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250

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