Desperate drought highlights need for national strategy

Desperate drought highlights need for national strategy

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PM's support package spurs calls for policy to get feds, states and local governments pulling in the same direction.

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A boost to on-farm and community support programs are welcome, but decision makers must go the extra mile to deliver a strategy to survive future droughts.

That's the message from farm and community groups following the announcement of the federal government's support package for drought-hit states of NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria.

There are no set trigger points to kick off drought support, and no definitive list of responsibilities for federal, state or local governments.

That means when drought starts to bite, communities and farmers don't know how long they'll need to cope on their own, when assistance become available, what it's worth and how long it will last.

The National Farmers' Federation welcomed the drought support announcement, but called for renewed efforts to end to the ad-hoc plans operating across.

"We need a comprehensive and enduring national approach to drought that focuses on preparedness and resilience measures," said NFF chief executive Tony Mahar.

"Hopefully that can reduce the need for impromptu in drought announcements."

NFF is calling for a national framework that sets down specific responsibilities across Commonwealth, state and local governments so there's consistent support measures available in each jurisdiction.

"We need an approach that mandates the assessment of the effectiveness of drought measures and allows for improvements when measures fall short," Mr Tony Mahar.

"It's absolutely crucial that we have a coordinated approach that ensures all voices are heard and that the responsibility of managing drought is shared across government, industry and community."

Country Women's Association of Australia president Tanya Cameron said farmers and small businesses are the fabric of rural communities, and they need policy surety to help them through a drought-hit local economy.

"They need certainty about what they need to plan for, what are the triggers for the next level of support kick-in, what will be delivered, what conditions the support come with, and how long that assistance will last," Mrs Cameron said.

She said changes to the Farm Household Allowance announced today were particularly helpful, particularly the removal of the requirement for partners to submit separate applications to receive assistance.

One example of the negative impacts farmers cite as a result of separate state and federal drought policies is the confusion over in-drought farmer payments.

Currently, the states are at odds over direct subsidies.

Victoria doesn't offer them, and the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria wants NSW to abolish its popular drought support scheme, the $40,000 fodder transport subsidy, because it artificially inflates the cost of feed for farmers across the country.

Meanwhile, Queensland prompted a farmer backlash when it suggested it could scrap freight subsidies by 2021.

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Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the government's drought support package was inadeqaute.

"It's far too little too late. It's a band aid approach which missed the mark," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

He called on the government to admit it had employed an "ad hoc and delayed" approach to drought policy, to release the drought taskforce report prepared by Major General Day, and to commit to provide the FHA for the next six years.

AgForce said the PM's support package ticked several important boxes.

"The common-sense changes made to the Farm Household Allowance in response to our feedback are significant and will make this vital assistance package more accessible to more people in tough times," said AgForce grains president Brendan Taylor

"The re-introduction of the Drought Community Support Initiative, through which farming families experiencing hardship can receive grants of up to to $3,000, will also provide a financial and emotional boost, especially in the lead-up to the Christmas period."

NSW Farmers vice-president Chris Groves called for additional federal funding for local governments to fund for water carting, and to offset the cost of rate rebates for cash-strapped farmers and agriculture dependent local businesses, as well as consideration of farm-exit packages, and subsidies to maintain on-farm employment.

Earlier today, the PM announced $33.42 million to resume the Drought Community Support Initiative, which can provide up to $3000 to eligible farm households, distributed by the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society and Rotary.

The Drought Communities Program will be extended with $13m to provide drought-affected local governments with up to $1m for local infrastructure and other relief projects.

There's $740,000 for the Rural Financial Counsellors, to advise farmers on their financial options.

Eligibility criteria for the Farm Household Allowance will be simplified to encourage more people to access payments

The story Desperate drought highlights need for national strategy first appeared on Farm Online.

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