Drought-hit farmers welcome Abbott's $300m rescue package

DRIZA BONE: Drought is already rearing its head in the region, with dry areas near Warwick’s Thornton Rd a prime example of worsening conditions.
DRIZA BONE: Drought is already rearing its head in the region, with dry areas near Warwick’s Thornton Rd a prime example of worsening conditions. Higgins Storm Chasing

WHILE farmers and cattle producers may not have got everything they wanted, the National Farmers Federation has largely welcomed the Abbott Government's $300 million-odd drought package.

NFF chief executive Matt Linnegar told reporters in Canberra the federation was particularly pleased with the loosening of the asset test on concessional loans.

The package, totalling $320 million, will include the low interest loans, offered at 4% per annum over five years; more generous income support, pest management and mental health funding.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce announced the long-awaited drought assistance package after a Cabinet meeting ran late into the night considering the options.

The package will include more generous income support criteria, with farmers with assets up to $2.5 million able to access Newstart-equivalent payments, as early as Monday next week.

It will also include low interest concessional loans totalling $280 million, with individual businesses able to secure up to $1 million, or up to 50% of their farm's debt (whichever is lower) through the loans.

While the programs would be "demand-driven", Mr Abbott said he expected hundreds of farmers to benefit from the loans, and potentially thousands to receive income support.

The package also includes $10 million to help with pest management, where wild dogs and other predators are taking livestock and competing for feed, and a further $10.7 million for mental health and social services.

But Mr Linnegar said he still had not seen the details of the package, especially how "viable" businesses will be defined in order to access the loans.

Producers, especially in cattle across western Queensland and new South Wales, have suffered from being unable to meet state authority definitions of "viable" in order to get the existing loans.

And the Abbott Government has not indicated whether there could be any changes to actual "viability test", showing some farmers without enough stock for ongoing income may still not qualify.

Labor's agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said while the was welcome, he was also waiting to see the specific details of the viability test.


Topics:  drought tony abbott

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