Budget drought package draws mixed local, state reaction

DRYING UP: A familiar sight to many in the region - a dried-up dam - just outside of Manilla. Photo: Gaye Johnson

DRYING UP: A familiar sight to many in the region - a dried-up dam - just outside of Manilla. Photo: Gaye Johnson

THERE has been mixed reaction to yesterday’s drought funding news, some saying the measures will help, others saying it’s only helping farmers into more debt.

In the $284 million package announced as part of 2018 NSW budget, there’s money for three new weather radars, an expanded Farm Innovation Fund and more mental health support.

NSW Farmers said the measures reflected its advocacy efforts “and it’s good to see the government has been listening to farmers’ concerns”.

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Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson said it was “great to see” the support but conceded that “regardless of what announcement is made regarding drought, there’s always more to be done”.

NSW Premier and deputy Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro, and Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair made the announcement from a Dubbo property.

“We know the drought is hitting our farmers hard but we want to reassure communities that we are doing everything we can to make sure the right help is available at the right time,” Ms Berejiklian said.

One key change was that the Farm Innovation Fund would include seven-year interest-free loans of $50,000. These could be used to bring in fodder and grain, as well as install water infrastructure.

Local reaction

Mullaley landholder Geraldine McKay said the measures had come late and she could “see and hear the stress of many of our fellow farming fraternity”.

“Freight costs have skyrocketed [and] $50,000 doesn’t go far to purchase feed and freight it from SA and Victoria,” she told The Leader.

“Already farmers have sent valuable breeding stock for slaughter. This drought has been building for too long.”

Willow Tree cattle farmer Therese McIntyre said she would “take up the $50k on offer”.

“It will help. But jeez, why not some fodder subsidy for all the transport?”

Many others commented on social media that it was just “more debt”.

Mr Anderson, however, said there was a lot of variation in the needs of landholders in the area.

He said the loans were flexible and more effective than simple freight subsidies, which would just be “lining the pockets of people interstate”.

“There was a lot of talk around the fact it would drive up the market,” Mr Anderson said.

“I was getting as many calls for freight subsidies as I was from farmers saying, ‘Don’t introduce the freight subsidies because of the false market that it will set’.”

He said the Farm Innovation Fund was “all about drought preparedness”.

“This is not the first time we’ve been in these conditions and it won’t be the last.”

Mr Anderson said many people had put their properties into “pause mode” and could now desilt dams, install more water infrastructure, and put up new fencing and new hay shedding “so that farmers can prepare for when it does occur again”.

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