Monday, 3 March 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Abetz. Can the minister outline to the Senate what new action the government is taking to support farmers and communities in drought affected areas across Australia?
I congratulate Senator O'Sullivan on his first question and welcome him to the Senate. I understand that Senator O'Sullivan, as recently as yesterday, led discussion on this serious issue at the LNP state council at Toowoomba.
The Australian government is providing a new package to assist drought affected farm businesses and farm families to deal with immediate financial pressures and improve their capacity to recover when the current drought breaks.
Opposition senators interjecting—
I would have thought that, on an issue like this, the Labor Party would be able to resist interjecting.
The package is fair but fiscally responsible, providing targeted and time limited measures to promote drought resilience and preparedness over the longer term. Elements include the interim farm household allowance, which will replace the current transitional farm family payment. The new payment will provide a more generous asset test. The Australian government is also providing $280 million for concessional loans to assist drought affected farm businesses recover from drought and return to profitability in the long term. Drought concessional loans of up to $1 million or up to 50 per cent of eligible debt, whichever is lower, will be provided to eligible farm businesses at an initial interest rate of four per cent over a five-year period. We are also providing additional funding for water infrastructure, social support and the control of pest animals. In relation to water infrastructure, a further $2 million is set aside to extend assistance to other areas and jurisdictions if required. In relation to pest animals, $10 million is set aside. In short, it is a very well-rounded package.
This package of measures will offer financial, social and mental health support to our farming communities so they can manage during drought and be in a strong enough financial and emotional position to effectively recover from drought. The drought concessional loans will allow eligible farm businesses to restructure their existing debt at a lower interest rate and provide finance to meet their ongoing daily business running costs and cover drought recovery activities. The additional funds for water infrastructure will invest in infrastructure to provide water for emergency animal welfare requirements and improve long-term drought resilience. Social support funding will enhance the capacity of service providers across drought affected areas, particularly in Queensland and New South Wales, to deliver outreach services, including counselling and community events.
The interim farm household allowance will replace the current transitional farm family payment. Payments to new applicants under the interim farm household allowance start as of today, 3 March 2014. This is an interim measure until the new farm household allowance commences on 1 July 2014. Drought concessional loans will be available once delivery arrangements are settled with the relevant state and territory governments. The Department of Social Services is already delivering the improved mental and social support services. Negotiations have already commenced with the states to get funding for pest management and water infrastructure delivered as soon as possible. I compliment a former Senate colleague Mr Joyce, now the member for New England, for this package. It really will be of great assistance to drought affected farmers, not only in New South Wales— (Time expired)