Drought-hit farmers get chance to show Tony Abbott parched communities first handBy Anna Henderson, Peter Lewis and staff, Monday February 17, 2014 - 00:09 EDT
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told drought-affected farmers the Government is close to finalising an assistance package that addresses the economic and social needs of rural areas.
Mr Abbott and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce toured parts of New South Wales and Queensland on Sunday, giving farmers the chance to talk directly to them about the drought and how it is affecting rural communities.
But part of the tour was cancelled because of rain - with heavy falls in Bourke, and some rain and strong winds in Longreach.
Mr Abbott arrived in the north-west NSW town of Bourke to hear about the impacts of the drought, but almost immediately rain set in.
The Prime Minister then headed to Queensland, where the tour was expected to move to a farm near Longreach, but rain again interrupted the schedule and a farm tour was cancelled.
However, farmers have warned that isolated rains will not provide them with enough relief to renew their businesses.
Mr Abbott and Mr Joyce are meeting farmers, their industry representatives and local community leaders ahead of federal Cabinet considering a range of relief measures.
Rain doesn't mean drought is over
In Bourke, Mr Abbott told locals he did not want country Australia to become a "museum piece".
"I'm very conscious of the fact that this has been quite a serious drought and it has been going now for the best part of two years," he said.
"Today is good soaking rain, it doesn't mean that the drought is over but nevertheless, it is very encouraging, it is very hopeful.
"It takes time to recover from a period of very intense drought and that is why it is still important, whatever might happen with rain in the next few days and weeks, that there be a significant drought position adopted by the Government."
The Prime Minister said the Government wanted country Australia to be a "strong and a viable part" of the economy.
"We are very confident that we are close to finalising a drought package, which will address the economic and the social needs of the people in those parts of rural and regional areas that have been so significantly impacted," he said.
"This is a government that is determined to stand by the people of Australia in good times and in bad times, and I am confident that we are close to announcing a drought package which is both fair and economically responsible."
Labor willing to work 'on behalf of national interests'
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor was "open to business" when it came to assisting farmers.
"Labor wishes to work with the Government in terms of the tough time the farmers are getting with drought," he told reporters in Adelaide, where he launched Labor's state election campaign.
"I appreciate visiting farmers is important but we had a whole week last week in Parliament where the Abbott Government could have proposed measures to assist farmers.
"Labor is willing and wants to work on behalf of the national interests and best interests of our farmers. We do that with the Abbott Government."
Treasurer Joe Hockey has signalled to other struggling industry sectors that the "age of entitlement is over".
But Mr Abbott told the community in Bourke drought-hit businesses were different.
"What we can't do is prop up failing businesses, but what we can do is try to ensure that good businesses that are hit by natural disaster get the sort of support that they need," he said.
"That is what the Government will be making announcements about in coming days."
NFF says government assistance just part of the solution
The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) believes there is a compelling argument for special consideration this time, but others question whether rescue packages only serve to carry struggling businesses from one drought to the next.
NFF president Brett Finlay is travelling with both Mr Abbott and Mr Joyce, and says government assistance is just part of the solution.
"It's assistance for communities to give them a hand up, it's not a handout, to show support," Mr Finlay told ABC News 24.
"Before this natural disaster, these were strong viable productivity communities.
"If they don't receive support these communities will take years to recover.
"When it rains they will bounce back.
"It's about profitability back inside the farm gate so that when it does rain, these businesses can be profitable again."
Mr Finlay says the visit will provide an opportunity for Mr Abbott to see for himself what communities are dealing with.
"It's an opportunity for graziers, farmers, people who live in those communities just to tell their story about what they've been confronted with, the conditions that they've seen for the last 18 months and how that's impacted on their business and communities." he said.
Longreach grazier Simon Daley agrees that more than financial aid is needed to assist in drought-affected areas.
"Money alone won't solve it," Mr Daley told News 24.
"Ideally in short, very quick terms we need a big drop of rain throughout the drought areas but it's just a case of holding on at the moment.
"The farmers at the moment are at the bottom of the ladder with the production for agriculture producing the food.
"The Government needs to give power to the farmers in negotiating with coal seam gas companies or mining companies.
"If the Government can back the farmers and make them more powerful in their terms of trading, that's where we need to get on top."
© ABC 2014
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