Line in the sand: Minister calls on federal government to help farmers

FINANCIAL assistance for struggling farmers in the region is in the hands of the federal government, says state Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson. 

Her comments come after a drought tour of the area and as Central Tablelands Local Land Services chairperson Ian Armstrong pushes for the tablelands to be included in any further drought assistance packages. 

Yesterday Ms Hodgkinson announced an additional $7 million for drought assistance measures for 20 local government areas in the north and far west. 

She referred questions about the extent of drought conditions in the Central Tablelands back to the regional assistance advisory committee but said the area looked dry and she was personally feeding her own livestock in Yass. 

Ms Hodgkinson said it was not ideal that an arbitrary line was drawn on a map and farmers on one side of that line received assistance while farmers on the other side did not.

She said nothing could be done until the federal government’s farm household allowance starts on July 1. 

“We’re still waiting on information from the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth traditionally carries the biggest load when it comes to assistance during drought time, so I am really hoping they come forward with a thorough and comprehensive package of assistance for all those people in need,” she said. 

The Labor government ended the exceptional circumstances scheme in June 2012 and announced a new scheme based on a farm household allowance.

OUR SAY: DROUGHT RELIEF FOR THE LONG TERM

But farmers who require support between now and  July 1 can only access income support payments with an assets and income test similar to Newstart.

“That’s the whole problem ... we were trying to get rid of EC (exceptional circumstances) but the new model from the commonwealth comes in on the first  of July,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

“Queensland has gone back to the old system so we’ve pretty much had to go back to what Queensland have done. Someone gets it, somebody misses out.”

Mr Armstrong said he had not yet taken a comprehensive look at drought conditions in the area but said the negative impacts of drought go beyond the availability of feed.

“It affects the livestock markets and the availability and supply of fodder,” he said. 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently said he would tour drought-affected areas of NSW and Ms Hodgkinson said she hoped such a tour would pre-empt a funding announcement. 

nicole.kuter@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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