The Land View Time’s right for action

The Land Newspaper
NSW Farmers View
20 February 2014
Fiona Simson - President

The Prime Minister’s visit to Bourke and Broken Hill this week is a welcome step in the recognition of the drought currently confronting farmers in NSW.

Now it’s time to deliver on some of his comments about supporting farmers.

It is frustrating that despite all the work we’ve done over the last 6 years on drought policy we still find ourselves at this point - in a political minefield while farmers are making the tough decisions.

Both state and federal governments could do well to learn from this experience and actually have an in-drought package in place so we do not have to wait until 2 years into a drought before they act.

An in-event support package is a necessary part of any drought policy – something we have advocated for the last 6 years – you can’t ignore it. Yes, developing programs that support preparedness and self reliance are important and we fully support them but they must be part of the complete package.

Politics needs to be pushed aside and farmers and their communities need some recognition for what they have been living in - a drought – and do something about it. Living in a policy vacuum is not something they can afford any longer.

So what needs to be done?

It is encouraging that the NSW Agriculture Minister last week extended state assistance to another 21 more areas. We now want the Minister to make quick decisions on those other areas of the state that are suffering just as much. It would also be helpful to know why some areas get access to assistance when others don’t. How did Walcha get assistance when Mudgee missed out? Our members tell us that they are both in drought.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government needs to announce some details on what its policy is.

It could start by boosting the farm finance package, reducing its interest rate and making it a longer term. The also need to look at the income support package. At the moment viable farmers would have little chance of accessing it. Asset and income tests should allow viable farmers experiencing cash flow problems to access it rather than force them to sell their assets.

So while it is a good thing that we are finally getting some attention from politicians it would have been better if it had all been sorted years ago. I wish they didn’t pretend that by removing it from the vocabulary that the “D word” would simply disappear.

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