Drought support package of little use: academics

THE Federal Government's drought relief package will be of limited benefit to rural communities according to Charles Sturt University experts.

CSU Professor of Economics John Hicks said the crisis affected whole communities, but the package offered little for those not directly involved in farming.

"The stress in farming communities from drought is matched by the stress in urban communities dependent on manufacturing when major industries close down," he said.

"No, or little, farm production means falling farm incomes and falling expenditure in local communities.

"It is therefore not just farmers who are impacted, but also those servicing farming from the service and manufacturing sectors. The economic problems multiply throughout the community resulting in job losses and economic stress for many.

"Governments at all levels have a responsibility to assist those who are vulnerable."

Professor Hicks said assistance should be targeted at solutions that would ensure the long-term sustainability of communities.

"In manufacturing and farming communities, it is becoming increasingly apparent substantial restructuring of industry is required," he said.

"The new package will help farmers with short-term problems, but for those who are locked into farms with limited long-term viability it is unhelpful at best and may even result in them staying in the industry when an assisted exit would be a better use of government funds."

CSU researcher Dr Merrilyn Crichton has studied the social impacts of the last drought, ending in 2011, and the roll-out of drought-relief packages.

She said drought assistance, particularly in the form of better access to mental health services, was needed urgently but the critical factor would be how the new measures are implemented.

"In researching the effects of the last drought, it was clear that the biggest challenge was getting mental health workers into the regions to do the work," she said.

"This latest package is very encouraging, but we need to ensure these challenges are met and there is support provided to farmers to help them make best use of the loans and financial assistance available."

For a full outline of the assistance measures, go here.

Topics:  drought drought assistance