Overhaul declaration system, Farmers say

THE state’s peak farming body has welcomed yesterday’s drought funding announcement but warned the system needs a dramatic overhaul to deal with future disasters.

NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said while the additional $7 million of emergency drought support funding was a “good start”, the time it took to get into farmers’ bank accounts was inexcusable.

The state government last year reformed its drought-declaration system from an exceptional-circumstances model to one based on seasonal condition reports, with a drought-preparedness approach.

“We have had reports that people have spent more than half a million dollars managing this drought. You wouldn’t spend that much unless you believe you can continue to make a business out of farming when the drought breaks. This announcement means 52 per cent of the state can receive assistance, but the feedback from our members suggests more than 60 per cent of the state is suffering drought. The government knows the current situation, because we have been putting it in front of them for months. What we don’t want is another protracted process for getting measures approved, if more areas move into drought,” Mrs Simson said.

“Some of the areas, such as the far west unincorporated area, had additional information collected two months ago – why should it take that long for a decision? The government needs to make the drought triggers and process transparent, so all farmers can understand how these decisions are made. 

“Four years ago it was called a drought – now the government wants to avoid the word. 

“Call a drought a drought and let people know what the criteria are for being in drought.”

But NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson said the new system afforded the government greater flexibility in responding to drought.

“You used to have to wait until there wasn’t a blade of grass in the paddock or a drop of water in the dam until it was declared EC,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

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