The Federal Agriculture Minister has announced changes to the Farm Finance debt relief package that will see more funding directed to Queensland, NSW and Victoria, at the expense of other states and the NT.
Barnaby Joyce says Queensland will get an additional $20 million for concessional loans this financial year, and NSW and Victoria will each get an additional $10 million for 2013-14. He says the worsening drought in Queensland in particular, means that state is rightly the focus.
Queensland, NSW and Victoria are the only states to sign up to the Farm Finance program so far. Under the previous Labor government's original plan, supported by the then Coalition Opposition, each state and the Northern Territory was to receive $30 million a year, for two years, to offer concessional loans to 'viable' debt-laden farmers..
If South Australia and Western Australia sign up, they will now each receive $10 million less over two years, with both states allocated $25 million per year for concessional loans.
The Northern Territory and Tasmania will each receive $30 million over two years for loans if they sign up.
The original scheme was worth $420 million, but funds allocated under the revised scheme are worth $380 million. Mr Joyce says all of the remaining $40 million will go into a special reserve fund, to give the government the ability to offer more concessional loans to farmers as needed in the 2014-15 financial year.
Mr Joyce has also announced that the Commonwealth will give Queensland an additional $7 million for water infrastructure, essentially to construct bored and other watering points on drought-affected properties. That will supplement an existing Queensland Government scheme. The Commonwealth will allocate $3 million to NSW for the same purpose if that state's government also comes up with some funding.
Mr Joyce has confirmed that $10 million will come from unallocated funds originally destined for sustainable agriculture projects under the Caring for our Country and Landcare programs.
The Coalition had promised there would be no cuts to Landcare if it was elected.
Mr Joyce denies that the redirection of funds constitutes a cut.
"I think a reasonable person looking at this would say it definitely assists sustainable agriculture programs," he said.
"If you think of the countervailing view, if I had all my cattle at one watering point in a corner of a paddock, that is not assisting the land. That is actually causing a problem in the care of the land. The more I can get those cattle to evenly pasture across my property, the better I can look after the property.
"That is certainly a Landcare attribute."
Queensland farm lobby group AgForce has welcomed Mr Joyce's announcement.
CEO Charles Burke says the finance package is "a very positive first step" and recognition that Queensland is one of the states worst affected by drought at the moment.
Mr Burke says the extra $20 million is a good move, but is unsure if it will be enough, "because we don't know the extent and the impact of the current drought".
He says AgForce's next step will be to explore other opportunities for assistance.
© ABC 2013
17:16 EDT Many farmers in southern Western Australia are working around the clock to keep their stock alive after a long, dry summer.