The federal government has announced additional drought support, turning its focus to promoting drought preparedness and mitigation with new tax breaks, concessional infrastructure loans and community funding.
The much maligned Farm Household Allowance also comes in for attention in the governments expanded program.
“Drought is gripping our farmers, our regional communities and local businesses and industries,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Michael McCormack.
“We’re united in making sure we represent the people as best we can, and those people who live on the outer edge of the cities, indeed away from the bright city lights, we want to make sure they know we have their back in everything we do.”
To encourage on farm investment, the cost of fodder storage facilities can now be deducted immediately, rather than depreciated over three years.
This tax break compliments the existing $20,000 instant asset write-off already available for small businesses.
Borrowing limits on low-interest farm infrastructure loans will be doubled, from $1m to $2m while the total amount available for loan will be doubled to $500m a year.
The first five years of these loans remain interest only, and farmers with existing government loans will can refinance to take advantage of the interest-only concessional period.
The Drought Communities Program gets an extra $75m, with 60 drought hit local government areas receiving $1m each to fund projects such as community building or emergency water supply. Additional financial support will also be available.
The guidelines become more flexible, to target high-impact projects such as employing local contractors to upgrade or build new community facilities, undertake drought-relief activities and water carting.
A $72m drought round of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund will be issued to affected areas.
The Great Artesian Basin bore capping program gets a $23.7m boost to improve the efficiency of groundwater use.
Farmer-specific weather and climate guides will be made more accurate with a $2.7m investment in the Bureau of Meteorology.
“Today’s announcement comes after extensive and continuing consultation, and responds to what farming communities have told us,” the government said in a statement.
The government said its drought funding, which includes potential uptake of concessional loans, makes up to $1.8 billion available to farmers.
“It will increase economic activity in drought stricken communities and provide farmers with the opportunity to better drought proof their properties.”
Farm Household Allowance
The government is responding to complaints about the difficulty of applying for an FHA, committing to simplify the process, reduce paperwork and add more staff to man the phones.
Fewer documents will be required to make a claim. The government gave an example where a balance sheet or tax return for a farm business could be used to source information.
Earlier this month the federal government announced a $190 million drought package centering on additional payments are available to farmers eligible for the FHA.
“We have bolstered our processing staffing levels to ensure farmers will be supported when applying for FHAs,” the government said.
“There will be increased phone access capacity allowing farmers to complete a claim over the phone, and we will simplify the process for farmers who are not able to claim online. Fewer documents will be required to make a claim.”