Wagga region farmers will benefit from the federal government’s extended drought aid package, according to Riverina MP Michael McCormack.
Mr McCormack joined with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Trangie on Sunday to announce a $190 million immediate-relief package, taking the total federal drought aid to $576m.
“The package will benefit farmers in the Riverina because changes to the Farm Household Allowance will enable two lump-sum supplementary payments, one to be paid in September and the follow-up one in March,” he told The Daily Advertiser.
“For a couple it’s two lump sums totalling $12,000 and for a single they will get up to $7200
“We have also increased the Farm Household Allowance threshold from $2.6 million to $5 million; we accept that many farmers are asset rich but cash poor.”
Last month the NSW state government almost doubled its drought aid to more than $1 billion, with an emphasis on subsidies for livestock feed and water freight costs.
Mr McCormack said there was an additional $5m for rural financial counselling.
“People will be able to get an expert around their kitchen table with them to discuss how best to work their finances and drought-proof their farms for the future,” he said,
“We have also provided $15m to an organisation called the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, and that will go out in small grants for non-for-profit groups and locally driven support.
“With these things, some of the best support is given by well-meaning and well-intentioned community people on the ground.”
Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said he welcomed the household assistance increase but he had two main issues with the government’s policy.
“One is a proper revisiting of the complexities and difficulties people have in securing Farm Household Allowance...shifting income or asset tests around won’t make the paperwork any easier or lower the hurdles that people I speak to have been facing,” Mr Fitzgibbon told the Country Hour.
“The second problem is of course the lack of a long-term strategy. We do have to accept I think or indeed at least risk manage the idea that this climate will continue to become more challenging and we need long-term solutions.”
Downside livestock and Kelpie stud farmer Steve Condell also said the complex forms for drought assistance could increase stress for farming families in crisis.
Mr McCormack said there had to be paperwork to prevent abuse of aid and he was, in his role as deputy prime minister, in ongoing talks with farmers and stakeholders about the government’s response to drought.
Mr Turnbull defended the drought policy ABC TV on Monday night.
“It is designed to keep body and soul together. It is not designed to pay for fodder; $12,000 would barely pay for a truckload of hay,” he said.