OUR SAY: Drought relief for the long term

COMMENT: The speed with which much of western and central NSW has fallen into drought seems to have caught many politicians and policy makers by surprise and has highlighted once again that Australia does not have an appropriate drought-relief strategy in place.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has certainly taken the message that our graziers need help to the corridors of Canberra and thousands of farmers across a wide area of the state are waiting desperately for the Abbott government to unveil a substantial relief package.

This week the NSW government announced some additional funding for 20 local government areas in the north-west of the state but Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson would have seen during her visit to the Central Tablelands yesterday much more money is needed, and over a much bigger area of the state.

A new income support scheme will come into force from July 1 and Prime Minister Abbott has indicated drought support may be brought forward after seeing the crisis conditions in the north-west.

Beyond emergency relief, be it based on the old exceptional circumstances model or its replacement, there needs to be a drought-relief structure put in place for the long term.

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The near record sequence of scorching days over the last two months, which have taken their toll not just in the west but in more temperate areas like Orange, have demonstrated just how quickly conditions can go from dry to serious drought.

The now imminent shutdown of the car industry in Australia has put the argument about taxpayer subsidies and unsustainable industries back on the agenda.

Governments of all persuasions acknowledge the seasonal extremes in agriculture put it beyond any comparison with the manufacturing sector.

They must now look more closely at the changing climate, the rapid funding response that should be permanently available and how to pay for that for the long term.

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