PM promises new drought assistance package

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has headed off an internal Coalition clash over drought funding for struggling farmers by promising to bring forward a new assistance package on Thursday.

Mr Abbott made the comments on ABC Radio in Brisbane as The Nationals gathered for a party room meeting in Bundaberg after Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce toured Queensland over the past fortnight.

Mr Joyce earlier this week indicated he planned to take a multi-billion drought assistance package to Cabinet, but later said it was not a specific proposal yet.

However, a raft of Queensland MPs and other Nationals said they were firmly behind Mr Joyce's stance this week, urging the Abbott Government to heed the worsening situation across the country.

Among them, Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd, Capricornia MP Michelle Landry and Maranoa MP Bruce Scott all backed in behind further drought assistance.

Mr Scott, who represents the largest federal electorate in Queensland, said it wasn't just about funding, supporting moves to redefine terms in the current assistance package such as "viable".

He said the drought in western Queensland was already so bad many cattle and sheep producers has sold off all their stock, and with none left in the paddock, they could not meet the definition of a "viable" property.

Dawson MP George Christensen also told APN this week he supported Mr Joyce's push and the need for redefinition, but also called for a new rural development bank.

Mr Christensen said there was a renewed need for a bank to help primary producers get low-cost loans to help them through the tough times.

"Some people have said to me what's the difference between this and SPC Ardmona - well what we're talking about here is mums and dads," he said.

"In many circumstances, we've got the drought showing farmers no mercy, but some of the banks are also showing no mercy.

"We need a rural development bank to show them how a good agricultural lending scheme can work - it's not about giving out free money, but low-cost finance in a way that understands droughts happen."

While Mr Abbott said the "problem is now", he would not say which specific initiatives, or how much funding, his government would put toward the issue.

He said there was a new package of drought assistance being brought forward, promising that he wanted it to begin as soon as possible.


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