Community leaders in regional Queensland have welcomed news that the Turnbull government will extend the Farm Household Allowance scheme by another year, at a maximum cost of $30 million.
It was one of the main suggestions made in the wake of news that 57 per cent of Queensland had officially entered its sixth year of drought and that conditions were worsening in NSW, prompting a three-day tour by Mr Turnbull, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, and Agriculture, Regional Development and Rural Health Ministers.
FHAs are a three year welfare payment for farmers struggling under the financial burden of extended dry periods, subject to an income and assets test. They provide a single rate of $529 a fortnight and $477 a person for couples.
As of May, there were around 2300 people who had exhausted their three year eligibility period for the allowance. There are about 2000 people currently receiving an FHA and about 8000 who have used the program overall.
AgForce north regional president, Dominic Burden, said getting the allowance extended was the first topic he addressed when he spoke with the Prime Minister in Blackall a fortnight ago.
“We have to look after families with this sort of safety net,” he said.
“Regardless of how liberal your views are, it’s badly needed at the moment because of the effect of this drought in the long term.
“It ultimately affects whole families – we don’t want people to walk away from the bush because they have no choice.
“I know that councils are concerned that people are in a very tough spot.”
That was confirmed by Longreach Regional Council mayor, Ed Warren, who said it was fantastic news.
“We say we need a hand up rather than a handout, but what options do people have at the moment,” he said.
“One year is better than nothing. We could be in the same situation in 12 month’s time but it’s a reprieve – people can plan a bit.”
Mr Burden agreed, saying that the allowance was provided in the context of drought, and so if the drought continued, the allowance would need to as well.
At the same time, he advocated for the review on the intergovernmental agreement on drought reform to be resourced and come to a conclusion, to set a long-term policy position.
“We ultimately want producers to take ownership of drought preparedness with things like water infrastructure, farm management deposits and feed storage.
“We need to think of drought in terms of climate variability.”
The Federal Government is extending the Farm Household Allowance program from three years to four.
The FHA extension bill has been introduced to parliament.