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Drought Review must deliver for all farmers

1 March 2009

“THE Australian Government’s Drought Review must establish a comprehensive agricultural policy that sets us up for more than just the next drought,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said today.

“Drought has cost this country dearly through the loss of 90,000 on-farm jobs, slashing Australia’s economic growth, and placing individuals, families, businesses, local communities and entire regions under enormous stress as farm production has plummeted and farm debt risen by 40%.

“As farmers need to adapt to the threat of greater climatic variability so, too, drought policy must evolve to facilitate that adaptation. Over the past three years the NFF has advocated a new approach for how Australia deals with drought in the context of climatic risk.

“The centerpiece is ensuring existing support continues for those still in drought. Meanwhile, focusing new measures on individual farm circumstances – not lines on a map – with a transition between the two streams as farmers come out of drought.

“For any Government to change the rules for existing support on farmers who are in drought would be unconscionable. Agriculture Minister Tony Burke has confirmed ‘no change’ for those currently receiving support.

“That secured, any new drought approach must be founded upon solid principals. Firstly, the NFF supports the notion of mutual obligation. Farmers receiving support should be required to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable and self-sufficient farming.

“Secondly, individual (rather than regional) assessments are needed to reflect differing farm exposure to climate variability. Farms have different needs and, therefore, will be affected by climate differently.

“Thirdly, the Government has a role to support farmers and rural business with the same basic social welfare safety-net available to all Australians.

“Fourthly, support for management and preparedness needs to be provided through options suitable to farmers and their particular circumstances. Embracing a range of measures, preparedness needs to be more than just spending money on infrastructure. It is about building an understanding of the working environment and utilising skill, knowledge and experience to best manage that environment.

“The NFF would only support a phase down of current Interest Rate Subsidies if a suite of programs, consistent with management and preparedness – including risk management tools, sustainability and recovery from drought – is available and applicable to the needs of the Australian farm sector.

“In addition, there are going to be climate events beyond the control of the very best risk management and drought preparedness… events that may threaten agricultural production and regional communities. In those circumstances, government intervention is warranted. However, the intent is to take the sting out of those events by investing upfront in management and preparedness strategies to reduce the need for future relief measures.

“Importantly, all of these measures need to be available across the farm sector, not just those in a drought-declared area. This is the framework we’ve taken to the Government and each of the ingredients is essential to gain the support of Australia’s 155,000 farmers.”

For more information on the NFF's drought reform initiative to the Australian Government, see the NFF's 2008 Submission to the Productivity Commission Draft Inquiry Report into Government Drought Support and Federal Budget Submission 2009.

[ENDS]

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