By Mehroz Siraj
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the federal government have announced a $320million relief and assistance package for drought ravaged farmers in Queensland and New South Wales.
In a media release that appeared on PM Abbott’s website, the government said that the latest relief package had been prepared after weeks of diligent planning and research.
“Farming is a very significant part of our economy and will play a critical role in our economic future,” the media release said.
According to the package’s proposed Interim Farm Household Allowance (IFHA), payments would be made to the newer applicants using the same mechanism through which previous payments under the Transnational Farm Family Payment (TFFP) scheme were made.
From March 1, those farmers who were already receiving payments under the TFFP would be automatically transferred to the IFHA, the release said.
Those farmers who experienced drought for the first time, would have to make new applications, the release added.
The release further added that these new payments would be paid fortnightly at the same rate at which the Newstart Allowance is currently being paid to out of work Australians.
These payments would however be forked out of the $280million that has been allocated towards providing financial assistance to struggling farmers, the release said.
After applications for assistance are received, the Department of Agriculture will perform assets tests on the concerned businesses in order to determine their aid requirements.
Once the farmers would prove their inability to pay off their debts and liabilities, they would be able to claim up to $1million or 50 per cent of their overall debts in assistance, it is learnt.
Of the remaining $40million, approximately $30million would be allocated towards improving local irrigation networks, pest control and community support, the release noted.
The government will allocate an extra $10million in order to bolster the already functioning state and regionally based drought and flood assistance packages that many farming communities are already utilizing.
These respective allocations will enable local farming businesses to pay off their debts and to restructure their cash flows as they strived to return to profitability once again, the government claimed.
The IFHA has received a mixed of bag of responses from the concerned stakeholders. .
“If we can give people access to money they can basically support the people they need to support in any case,” Agriculture Minister Joyce told ABC Radio, emphasising that many of these farmers were ordinary people who were trying to support their families and communities.
The minister further added that this new scheme would also help generate profits and incomes for farmers who had been without an income for over two years.
The new scheme gained widespread acknowledgement from the country’s farming community.
President of the National Farmers Federation (NFF), Brent Finlay, remarked that it was good to see that the government had positively responded to the organization’s earlier calls of initiating assistance packages.
“We welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward a package that is both fiscally responsible and considerate of circumstances suffered by rural communities in many parts of Australia,” Finlay remarked.
“This package is designed to provide assistance here and now. We must keep agriculture on the national agenda. We need to ensure clear and defined drought policy is a matter of priority for the Government,” Finlay said.
These views were however sharply contradicted by radio broadcaster Tom Elliott, who lamented that such assistance was not available to small business owners in other sectors of the economy.
“If you run a shop in a small town in New South Wales or Queensland and your business is badly affected by drought – and your business is your livelihood – you get nothing. The federal government does not come to your aid,” he critiqued on Melbourne’s talk-back radio station, 3AW.
“But if happen to be just a few hundred metres away on a farm growing something – or not growing something as the case may be – then the federal government will help you,” he said.