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Drought tightens its grip, but drought policy still on the loose

11 October 2013

With severe rainfall deficiencies across large parts of Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory, a return to drought conditions is a reality facing many Australian farmers – prompting a call by the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) for the Federal Government and the states to finalise details of national drought policy.

“The new Federal Government essentially inherited the drought policy of the former Government – which is very light on in detail, won’t come in for another nine months and provides little comfort for farmers in the grips of yet another drought,” NFF Vice President and Chair of the Drought Working Group, Brent Finlay, said.

“Currently, there are some measures that help farmers prepare for drought included in the Farm Finance package – including concessional loans to farmers, additional support via Rural Financial Counsellors and changes to Farm Management Deposits to make them more accessible – but after six years of review, National Drought Policy is still in the ‘developmental’ stage.

“Back in May this year, the respective state and territory governments signed up to the National Drought Policy, which contains five key elements - promoting Farm Management Deposits and taxation measures; a national approach to farm business training; a coordinated, collaborative approach to the provision of social services (including rural financial counsellors); tools and technologies to inform farmer decision making; and farm household support.

“This reform is meant to come into effect on 1 July 2014, yet to date, very little detail is known about each of these elements – meaning farmers who are currently in drought or approaching drought conditions still do not know how these elements will be made available to them, or even if they will be eligible to access them.

“And perhaps even more critically, the reform does not provide any certainty on in-drought business support, but rather a series of principles on which support could be provided if needed.

“It does provide the option to ramp up in-drought support if the situation requires, but does not provide a clear framework for this to occur and largely it leaves the decision on in-event measures up to the respective states, meaning farmers are treated differently in each jurisdiction.

“Farmers need certainty regarding the drought support available to them – both in preparing for, and surviving, extreme drought conditions – and we urge the new Government to finalise their own drought policy or lock in the detail on the existing one.

“Of course, in any discussion around drought support for farmers, it is important to note that the Australian agricultural sector currently receives the lowest amount of government support of all OECD countries when compared to our GDP – we’re not asking for handouts, but support in circumstances that are beyond what is reasonable for farmers to manage,” Mr Finlay said.

Mr Finlay’s comments come as the Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, prepares to visit drought affected farmers in Queensland tomorrow, following a tour in the top end yesterday – hosted by NFF members AgForce and the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association.

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