Drought help welcome, but NSW process 'too slow'

Areas of NSW eligible for drought assistance
Areas of NSW eligible for drought assistance

THE NSW Government's announcement it will extend drought assistance to 21 new areas in NSW is welcome, but something needs to be done to accelerate the process, according to NSW Farmers.

NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson many more areas in the State were experiencing dry conditions and the government needed to see drought support as an investment in farming in NSW.

While the NSW Government has expanded its assistance measures, there is a clear need for the Commonwealth to now put forward a comprehensive package to assist primary producers to respond to this drought.

"Farmers have been preparing and managing through drought for more than 12 months," she said.

"We have had reports that people have spent more than half a million dollars managing this drought. You wouldn't spend that much unless you believe you can continue to make a business out of farming when the drought breaks.

"Farmers have been making the tough decisions in selling stock, not planting crops and buying in feed. It is good to see the State Government has finally come to the party and made a decision.

"But it cannot rest on its laurels. This announcement means 52% of the State can receive assistance but the feedback from our members suggests more than 60% of the state is suffering drought.

"The Government knows the current situation because we have been putting it in front of them for months. What we don't want is another protracted process for getting measures approved if more areas move into drought.

"Some of the areas such as the far west unincorporated area had additional information collected two months ago - why should it take that long for a decision?

"The Government needs to make the drought triggers and process transparent so all farmers can understand how these decisions are made.

"Part of the issue is farmers are not being given any acknowledgement of the situation they are in. Four years ago it was called a drought, now the Government wants to avoid the word. Call a drought a drought and let people know what the criteria are for being in drought.

"Farmers in NSW are very thankful the government has listened to NSW Farmers and the farmers in the north west and announced these in-drought measures, but we must realise that the battle for our farmers is not over yet. They are still living it every day."

► Earlier today Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner and Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson  announced additional drought assistance measures.

The measures include the expansion of a temporary package of emergency in-drought support measures to an additional 20 local government areas (LGAs) and the far west Unincorporated Area in NSW.

In November 2013 the NSW Government announced a $7.6 million emergency assistance package for the Bourke, Brewarrina and Walgett LGAs and today's announcement increases the amount allocated to the support package to $14.6 million.

The temporary emergency assistance package will be expanded to include the LGAs of: Armidale; Bogan; Central Darling; Cobar; Coonamble; Gilgandra; Glen Innes; Gunnedah; Guyra; Gwydir; Inverell; Moree Plains; Narrabri; Tamworth Regional; Tenterfield; Uralla; Walcha; Warren; and Warrumbungle, as well as Broken Hill and the far west Unincorporated Area.

Ms Hodgkinson and Mr Stoner said the measures, which are back-dated to January 1, 2014, for all the LGAs - with the exception of the Transport Assistance Reimbursement for Bourke, Brewarrina and Walgett LGAs which is back-dated to July 1, 2013, include:

  • up to $20,000 per producer in the form of a Transport Assistance Reimbursement;
  • up to $30,000 per producer for Emergency Water Infrastructure Grants; and
  • the waiving of Western Lands Lease payments, Local Land Services rates and Wild Dog Destruction Board rates for a 12-month period, where applicable.

Mr Stoner said the NSW Government's temporary measures were funded through to June 30, 2014, and called on the Commonwealth Government to urgently release details of its proposed assistance package.

"The NSW Liberal & Nationals Government has taken the extra steps to ensure drought-affected communities and primary producers receive vital support," Mr Stoner said.

"While the NSW Government has expanded its assistance measures, there is a clear need for the Commonwealth to now put forward a comprehensive package to assist primary producers to respond to this drought.

"Despite our landholders being drought-prepared and on the front foot when it comes to maximising their properties' water storage, this extreme weather has delivered a real blow to their way of life.

"This comprehensive package will ensure these landholders and communities are assisted now while they deal with this crisis."

The expanded emergency assistance measures are in addition to assistance the NSW Government has made available to all landholders in NSW, which includes:

  • Transport Subsidies for Animal Welfare, focused on stock going to sale or slaughter where there is significant risk to animal welfare, which will remain while drought conditions persist; and
  • previously increasing funding to the Rural Support Worker Program.

Ms Hodgkinson said seasonal conditions were deteriorating at a rapid rate across a large portion of NSW and she was concerned at the severity and speed at which this drought is moving.

"Farmers are in some cases being forced to drastically reduce stock numbers, have been carting in feed and water for some time and have been forced to offload livestock at reduced prices to saleyards and abattoirs, which are reporting extremely high levels of throughput," she said.

"While the NSW Government recognises that producers must make sound management decisions and implement extensive preparedness measures to deal with adverse seasonal conditions, no matter how well a farmer may prepare for drought, it is impossible to completely drought-proof a property."

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Topics:  drought drought assistance fiona simson nsw farmers