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DROUGHT-CRIPPLED local farmers’ cries for help have finally been heard, with the state government yesterday beefing up its farm rescue package for the region.

Under the expanded $14.6 million Emergency Drought Assistance Package, $7 million has been earmarked to help a further 20 local government areas, including Tamworth, Armidale, Gunnedah, Glen Innes, Inverell, Moree, Uralla, Narrabri, Guyra, Gwydir and Walcha.

The announcement comes after fierce criticism of the government – and Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson – for not responding to the emerging drought crisis sooner.

Flanked by a media scrum in Tamworth yesterday, Ms Hodgkinson revealed the package would include transport subsidies, water infrastructure grants and waivers of Local Land Services rates and other fees.

“I lived through the last drought. My father took his own life in the last drought. I know how dire it can be,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

“It’s very dry out there and it’s tough to see.

“The seasonal conditions farmers are facing are incredibly difficult.

“It’s great to be able to make an announcement like this for the local area.”

The assistance, which was approved by Treasury just hours before the announcement, will be backdated until January 1 and run through to June 30.

Ms Hodgkinson parried off criticisms the package was too slow coming and did not go far enough.

“I know it’s frustrating for people who want immediate assistance,” she said.

“When it comes to expending taxpayer dollars, there has to be total transparency and accountability.

“We need to make sure we are totally accountable for the recommendations we put through.”

Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson described the extra funding as “very welcome news”.

“It’s a targeted approach ... and it will go a long way to lifting the spirits of farmers,” Mr Anderson said.

Winton farmer Dan Elias, who runs about 1000 beef cattle on his 6500-acre property, said any government assistance would be warmly received.

“Our dams are 90 per cent dry and we’ve been carting molasses in since last June,” Mr Elias said.

“The transport subsidies will be a huge help, as will money to help sink new bores.

“It’s unfortunate it’s taken so long to come though; for some people it could be too late.”

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