No-interest periods on drought loans for farmers and small businesses, support for remote students and economic stimulus for regional communities are positives in the Government’s latest drought package announced today.
“As summer looms the situation for many farmers and communities is becoming ever more dire,” National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson said.
“While rainfall last weekend provided respite and an uplift in morale in some areas, the reality is that without significant follow-up rainfall, drought will maintain its grip.
Ms Simson said the NFF had continued to ensure the voices of family farmers and rural communities managing drought were heard in Canberra.
“The NFF has called for tangible, immediate assistance for farming families, many of who have been without meaningful cash flow for consecutive years as well as help for struggling agriculture-dependent towns.
“Today, the Government has demonstrated it has listened by addressing some of the recommendations put forward by the NFF and our members and by continuing to increase it’s already significant assistance for those managing one of the worst droughts in living memory.
“Drought is complex, it is different for every farmer, business and community. There is now a suite of measures available, to a large degree, address these varying needs.”
Ms Simson said it was vital that the benefits of today’s announcements flowed as a matter of urgency.
“We can’t afford for support for farmers and the bush to be stalled by red tape and bureaucracy. Time really is of the essence.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Drought Minister David Littleproud have also addressed NFF’s recommendation to provide an interest-free period for Regional Investment Corporation drought loans.
A new RIC product will provide, for the first time, agriculture-dependent small businesses with a $500K loan, interest-free for two years and an interest-only period for years three to five with interest and principle for the remainder of the 10-year period. This is in addition to a new 2-year interest-free period for primary producer drought loans.
“We know it’s not just farm businesses hurting, it’s the many small businesses that rely on agriculture – businesses like shearing contractors, rural suppliers and machinery dealerships.”
Ms Simson said the commitment to ensure fodder was available to continue to feed livestock through potentially enduring drought conditions was also sound.
“Retaining critical breeding capability for the livestock sector to ensure a swift recovery once this drought breaks is crucial. We are keen to understand more of the detail around exactly how the 100 gigalitres of new water will be allocated and managed for southern basin fodder producers.”
Ms Simson said the drought was taking its toll on young people, and in the face of tough times, the NFF had asked the Government to consider additional support for students.
“The $10 million announced today for schools and $5 million for regional early childhood services will help remote families struggling to pay school fees.”
The NFF acknowledged the Government’s ‘fast-tracking’ of two already-committed federal infrastructure projects in drought affected regions: the Building Better Regions and Roads to Recovery; and the potential of these initiatives to provide jobs and economic injections for regional cities, towns and villages.
Ms Simson said the NFF welcomed extended investment in local governments including the addition of another six local governments to the Drought Communities Programme which provides councils up to $1 million each and a further $50 million discretionary fund.
“Councils have their finger on the pulse of their communities, funding for local governments to invest how they see fit is positive.”
“While the Government has also committed to asking state governments to do more to ease the rate burden and to provide payroll tax relief to maintain farm workers, this is an area where we need more commitment and collaboration.
“The NFF has been clear that local government rates are one of the biggest drains on the farm business balance sheet. Discounted or delayed rates would certainly be welcomed – governments at all levels need to do more to make this happen.
“Keeping farm workers employed is also important for workers, their families, their communities and to provide respite for farmers,” Ms Simson said.
In addition to support for this drought, the NFF continues to call on the Commonwealth, and state and territory governments to commit to a new national approach to preparing for, managing through and recovering from droughts in the future.
“We need a national approach that includes industry, community groups and all levels of government at the decision-making table; effective review of drought measures; and provides farmers and rural communities with certainty on drought support before we go into drought,” Ms Simson said.
“The NFF has provided Government with its proposed National Drought Policy, which is a direct reflection of what our members believe is required to improve drought management in Australia. We look forward to continuing discussions about the policy’s adoption.”