30mm rains on drought parade

BOGGED vehicles and more than an inch of rain were unexpected inclusions during Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s drought tour at the weekend.

The start of 30mm of rain hit as Mr Abbott, Mr Joyce and Member for Parkes Mark Coulton were visiting Jandra, a property near Bourke.

Such was the downpour, many of the vehicles were bogged trying to leave the property; Mr Joyce and several others rolled up their sleeves to push them out.

There are concerns the rain may dampen the message farmers and Mr Joyce want to send to other politicians and the rest of Australia – that they urgently need drought assistance.

However, Mr Abbott said yesterday the government was committed to helping regional Australia and would respond to the drought in a way that was “fair and responsible”.

This would include better income support, better access to loan support measures and “plenty of emphasis on social support”.

An assistance package would be announced in coming days, he said.

Bourke mayor Andrew Lewis said he expected the plan to be unveiled as early as today.

A spokesman for Mr Joyce’s office said yesterday they were pleased the Prime Minister had accepted Mr Joyce’s invitation to tour drought-hit areas and would continue to work closely with him on drought support measures.

“While it’s pleasing to see some rain, it’s certainly not going to break the drought and we all know assistance will still be required,” he said.

“The Prime Minister has flagged he is committed to assistance for regional Australia ... and we welcome that announcement.”

Phillip Ridge, the owner of Jandra, said politicians like Mr Abbott and Mr Joyce should visit more often if they brought relief with them. Even so, the region had been desperately dry for almost two years and would need follow-up rain soon if the area was to recover.

Mr Coulton said the drought was an ongoing issue that had reached severe levels.

“A drought affects not only farmers, but whole communities who are often based around the rural enterprise surrounding a country town,” he said.

“This visit has helped to illustrate the wider issues that are at play in a drought of this nature. While rain might have greeted the Prime Minister on the weekend, this rainfall doesn’t indicate that the drought is over.

“People right across the North West will still experience ongoing financial hardship well beyond the first rain.” 

Mr Coulton said it was beneficial for Mr Abbott to see the difficulties of the drought first-hand. 

“This will be valuable information in assessing further need in the region due to the ongoing drought,” he said.

“The strength of the community, as well as the hardship that they are currently facing, were both on show for the Prime Minister during his visit.”

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