PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you Pip and can I thank you too Auntie Ros and Mary for your wonderful welcome to country. Can I also acknowledge the traditional owners and elders past and present. Can I also thank my colleagues who have joined me here today from the Commonwealth Parliament, particularly the Deputy Prime Minister and all of my state and territory colleagues, the Premiers and Chief Ministers for joining us here today for this important national occasion here in our nation’s capital. But can I particularly thank all of you who’ve come from all parts of the country to be with us here today, to get here and to ensure that we can all get on the same page in terms of how we continue to respond and in terms of how we continue to adjust, to deal with both the relief and the recovery, but also the resilience for the future. So thank you for being here today.
We’re in Canberra, Australia’s national meeting place, the place where important decisions that affect the future of our country have been made for generations. In this very chamber, I think it’s fitting that we are here today, because these challenges around drought and our response and our recovery and our resilience are exactly the same challenges that they were dealing with here many years ago and we will always deal with as an Australian nation. And we’ll always deal with it in our state and territory jurisdictions and we’ll always have those challenges. So these conversations about drought, these decisions, these actions, this cooperation, is no stranger to this chamber, any more than it’s a stranger to the chamber up the road. The only difference is, I’ve noticed the seats here a little comfier than the other ones up there.
I’ll have a chat with the Speaker about that at another time, maybe they need a bit of extra padding here, Scotty, I don’t know.
It’s great to do it here in the nation’s capital Andrew, and we’re very pleased I think, to be here on this occasion. Dealing with drought, our change in climate and preparing for drought is a top priority of our Government. I want to thank you for making arrangements with your families, with your businesses, with you workplaces and of course, with those on your farms that have enabled you to travel here today to be part of this Summit. Some of you have left behind incredibly difficult circumstances and you know they’ll be there when you get back to them. The drought, which for some Australians I’ve visited, is easily the worst for them in living memory and it’s a long way from breaking. But the true spirit of Australians is not for breaking.
As I welcome you here today, I want to say that we acknowledge that tremendous resilience. Because if the drought is has reminded us of one thing, it’s the indomitable spirit of Australians and particularly rural and regional Australians. And the hope that they have in the future and their commitment to ensuring the maintenance of a lifestyle that has been lived in this country for generations and generations and indeed, as I acknowledge the Indigenous people of Australia, our care for our land, for our environment, it goes back 60,000 years and is a great heritage for us to pick up on.
We trust that our mates will be there to help us when times are tough, in our days and our weeks and months and years if necessary, of need. Whatever it takes, Australians have been sticking together in tough times, it’s in our DNA and that’s why, when I became Prime Minister, I announced that managing the drought would be one of my highest priorities. As we quickly went up to Quilpie, with Major General Stephen Day who I acknowledge today, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Bridget McKenzie and of course the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, that’s what we saw, a great response – and Scotty Buchholz too – to how the Government was moving quickly, to go and stand with people right across the country and in some of its worst affected areas.
So welcome again to the Summit. By bringing you together, we’re seeking to get an overarching picture about where and what needs to continue to be done. The town, the community, farm pressure points, especially in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, but increasingly in South Australia and other regions as the drought extends its reach. You are the stakeholders with the expertise and there are many others beyond this place who we couldn’t fit all in here today. Your field of vision is what we are looking at today. So please don’t be backwards in coming forwards.
We also need to ensure we have a good understanding of the support currently being delivered. So allow me to address those issues before us. Already, there is more than $1.8 billion in assistance measures and concessional loans to support drought-affected farmers and communities. A lot is being done at the Commonwealth level, just as it’s being done at the state and territory level. In terms of the Commonwealth, extending the Farm Household Allowance from three to four years, a temporary increase in Farm Household Allowance asset threshold from $2.6 million to $5 million and a new temporary FHA supplement of up to $12,000 for eligible farming couples for household and up to $7,200 for eligible single farmers paid as two lump sum payments. Providing up to $72 million for a special drought round from the National Water Infrastructure Fund, for water infrastructure in drought affected areas, already out there. Increasing support for mental health with an additional 11. $4 million to assist rural communities and communities impacted by drought. Already out there, doing that job. Investing in local infrastructure projects and drought affected communities by boosting the drought communities program by $75 million and providing support of $1 million to 60 eligible councils and shires in this financial year right here, right now, to support the towns, to support the local regional economies. Additional support for producers and graziers to help manage pest, animals and weeds. Changing the rules so that primary producers can immediately deduct rather than depreciate over three years, the cost of fodder storage assets such as silos and hay sheds used to store grain and other animal feed, making it easier for farmers to I believe invest in and stockpile fodder.
And cutting red tape. A really simple thing for truckies carting hay. Longer and higher loads of hay and fodder should be allowed to travel on state and nationally controlled, and that was a partnership exercise in territories to deal with one of the frustrating inconveniences that was just getting in the way of getting the feed to the farm. Now, the one for councils in a drought affected area is there is to help stimulate rural and regional communities with local infrastructure and other product projects, road upgrades, water infrastructure, community events, dog fences, whatever the need happens to be. And on top of this, we have announced another $15 million worth of grants as we did yesterday, to be dispersed to not-for-profits in drought communities through the foundation for rural and regional renewal which I’m sure the former Governor-General has a keen interest in, being involved in that organisation. As all the applications come in, we need to ensure they are targeted and coordinated because a local economy that is kept ticking supports not only farmers, but it also helps the hairdresser, as Barnaby reminds us, the mechanic, the supermarket, to remain open in these towns and services can continue to be delivered. But there’s a lot more work to do, as we know.
In bringing it together today, farmers, businesses, charities, banking and financial services – all levels of government, this Summit is an opportunity to go even further with additional measures for relief, for recovery and for resilience for the drought. That’s why today I’m announcing a package of significant new initiatives, as part of our Government’s ongoing drought response. First the Future Drought Fund. A comprehensive drought response needs to meet not only the immediate needs of those affected but to look to the future to ensure our agriculture sector is prepared and resilient. So we can do this, our Government is establishing a Future Drought Fund with an initial allocation of $3.9 billion in 2019. In time, this fund will grow to $5 billion. The Future Drought Fund will provide a sustainable source of funding for drought resilience works, preparedness and recovery. It’s about helping farmers and their communities to prepare and adapt to the impact of drought. Through the fund, the Government will drawdown $100 million a year for projects, research and infrastructure to support long-term sustainability. It will operate very similar to the medical research fund which was established by the Government some years ago. So to establish a base of capital, to see that capital basic spend up to $5 billion, but at the same time drawing down on the earnings of that fund, to ensure we can invest in these ongoing projects, this is about putting money away for a non-rainy day in the future and continuing to do it for the non-rainy days that extend out. And there is no time to waste. We’ll begin operating that fund as soon as we are able to pass the legislation through the Parliament.
We know the drought is not just felt on the farm, when spending dries up in regional up towns, it threatens the prosperity of local businesses and the families who run them. So we are bringing this support in to boost local economies and improve business confidence as well. I’m also announcing today an extension of the drought communities program. In addition to that, I’ve announced the future fund, and I’m announcing the program will be extended from 60 to 81 local governments and shires in drought-hit areas, giving each community $1 million to stimulate their local economy. So an extra the 21 shires will be supported by that program. This will bring the total commitment to $81.5 million. We have listened to farmers, their communities and their representatives in responding in this way and this has been a key issue that’s been fed back through Bridget McKenzie and Major General Day. It’s also imperative as we know to help as much as we possibly can with the mental health issues that accompany the devastation and loss that comes with drought.
So I’m announcing today a further $15.3 million in mental health initiatives, including $11 million to expand services at the six existing primary health networks subject to drought and adding two new primary health networks which are part drought-affected. This goes is on top of the additional funds we recently announced for Headspace which included more than $10 million focused on providing Headspace areas remotely in rural communities. I’m also announcing today that we are going to take pressure off farmers and families by helping them keep food on the table, meet bills and basic needs. We have the farm household assistance, we have been able cut the time down for filling in the forms by just over a third but we also need to be moving some of the support even more quickly than that. That is why the Government I announced today will provide $30 million to selected charities to continue their important work of supporting farmers, farm workers and farm suppliers, facing drought induced hardship. This initiative will provide support to at least 10,000 households in drought affected regions. That’s right 10,000 supported through programs which are already being one run by organisations like the CWA and others who are doing a tremendous job and we look forward to their participation in this program. They’re in touch with their communities, we’ll back them in to ensure they can get that support where it’s needed as quickly as possible through the CWA and others. This will see cash payments but importantly vouchers, vouchers to meet basic needs such as food, personal products and utility bills, so this support gets spent in the town.
Now, in those areas, where vouchers are too difficult to run because of their remoteness and complexities and logistics, then cash support can be used in those communities. This is about getting that assistance into the town and making sure the money is spent in the town. Not only will this help out many of the great recipients who are doing it tough, but it will be boosting regional businesses. Another area that we are announcing today is $50 million for on-farm emergency water infrastructure through the rebate scheme to provide financial help to primary producers in drought-affected regions. This will assist them with up to 25 per cent of costs associated with the purchase and installation of new on-farm water infrastructure needed to keep up water to livestock. The sort of on-farm structure to benefit includes piping, tanks, boors, troughs, pumps, fittings and desilting. The scheme will also support drought manage activities such as reducing the impact of drought on animal welfare and lowering grazing pressures on pastures. This will not only better drought-proof farms but all of that money will get spent predominately in the towns. Ensuring we are continuing to help those local economies.
And then there is the online farm hub, something that the national farmers have raised with us and I think wisely. Farmers, communities and individuals also need fast and easy access to information and support. There is a lot of support out there but we’ve got to better connect with those who need it with the services that are there not just at a commonwealth level but at a state and territory level where significant support is being provided as well. So as part of this package I am announcing, the online farm hub hosted by the NFF to provide a single trusted point of access to information and services. Through the hub, famers, families and regional communities will have access to what will be a comprehensive listing of available support, data and resources. In total these additional drought assistance measures that I have announced today increase the Australian Government’s commitment to nearly $6 billion growing to $7 billion over time. And that is all being done while bringing the budget back into balance next financial year one year ahead of our plans. It’s yet another sign that our Government is working hard and resolutely committed to helping farmers and regional communities not only make it through the drought but to once again be in a position to prosper when it breaks. It’s the hope I think, that encourages us all as we come here today, the hope we’ve all seen in rural and regional communities about when the drought breaks.
Joining us today we have Fiona Simpson the National Farmers Federation and David Jochinke who is also here from the Victorian Farmers he’s a third generation grain and livestock farmer from North West Victoria. Stuart Armitage from the Queensland Farmers Federation, I welcome you. Stuart’s lived on a farm his entire life and now runs a family operation growing predominately coffee. James Jackson, President of the New South Wales farmers, good to see you. James is a sheep and cattle producer from Guyra New South Wales and the input from all the peak farmers’ reps, each from drought-affected areas I think is going to be invaluable.
As I conclude, I encourage us all to continue on the spirit we’ve come here together. I want to thank particularly my state and territory colleagues but also all of those from across the Federal Parliament, whatever side of politics we’re on, it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t today and it doesn’t matter in the future. What matters is what we’re doing to support our nation, our farmers, our local and regional communities to get through this and to thrive into the future as Australians always have. I want to thank those rural and regional communities who’ve been out there for some, like in Queensland, as Annastacia knows, for six years, for six years, that is why I went to Queensland first because I wanted to talk to people who have been thriving and surviving in some of the toughest conditions there are. When I met the Tullys up in Quilpie and when I met the other young people who were there with their kids and saw the resilience and hope in their eyes and they showed me pictures of their property where the grass used to come up to their knees and they said, “It’s going to come again, we just have to get there.” And that’s what we’re going to do today, we’re going will help them get there and continue to stand with them. Thank you for your attendance today and we look forward to the outcome. Thanks Pip and Macca as well.