House debates

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Drought

2:32 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management. Will the minister please inform the House how the Morrison government continues to support farmers and communities affected by drought during the COVID-19 pandemic?

2:33 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Grey for his question. He knows, probably better than anyone, the impacts this drought has had on his community as it spread like a cancer from Queensland right across this country. Despite COVID-19 we continue to focus on those communities and farmers affected by drought through our national drought strategy with three distinct pillars. The first is about the here and now. The second is about the community to support the famers. The third is about the future. The here and now is very important. It's about keeping bread and butter on peoples' tables during these tough times. It is getting farmers through. We have the Farm Household Allowance that does that and, in fact, we lifted that in line with the COVID response. That payment now matches the jobseeker payment to ensure those farming families don't miss out.

We have also worked with the Regional Investment Corporation to specifically create a new product: drought loans, which means that farmers can refinance up to $2 million of their existing debt from their bank to the Regional Investment Corporation and pay no interest and no repayments for two years. It's up to $120,000 on six per cent. That's taking it out of big banks' pockets and putting it back in farmers' pockets and putting it back in communities' pockets, because that gets spent. We thought about how we're going to get these farmers through and it is also about their opportunity to replant and restock out of that as well, because cash flows take time to recover after drought.

We've got to support communities in the second pillar, and that is very important because the drought extends past the farm gate and into the communities that support them. We've put out a stimulus through the Drought Communities Program, stimulating economic development in these communities with a million dollars going to these councils to do shovel-ready projects that'll get tradies going and procuring local materials out at the local hardware stores.

In the next week or so we will also be announcing an extra $200 million under the Building Better Regions Fund, specifically for drought communities not just to get the community through the drought but to create new jobs. We haven't stood still. We're looking to the future. That's the third pillar. The third pillar is quite important. We are first government in our nation's history to think about the next drought while we are tackling the existing one, because the next drought starts the very first day after it stops raining and that's important to understand. That's been through a suite of measures. Part of the economic stimulus are things like dog fencing. The member for Grey would know firsthand, as he has been a champion of dog fencing, what that does. It builds the resilience in the future of sheep particularly. Bringing sheep back into the communities is very important, because invariably that brings shearers back and shearers are probably one of the best groups of people to leave a few dollars in town after they have been there.

The next biggest tranche will come into effect on 1 July when the Future Drought Fund will pay its first legislated dividend. It will look to the future in ensuring we build the resilience of these communities with programs that support them and build resilience for the future. We the first government to say, 'We need to understand that droughts will come again and we need to prepare our communities for that.' We will stand with our farmers all the way through— (Time expired)