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Drought-stricken NSW farmers offered water from public pool as national talks begin in Canberra

By National regional affairs reporter Anna Henderson, Monday July 9, 2018 - 06:59 EST
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Pool water could come to the rescue of drought-stricken farmers in New South Wales. - ABC

In a town in New South Wales, the drought has become so desperate that farmers are turning to their new local swimming pool for water supply.

The eight lane outdoor pool is still being built, and was filled with water last week while it was tested for leaks.

Gunnedah Mayor James Chaffey said he did not want that water to go to waste.

"There's more than two megalitres of water that is non-potable, water that is now becoming available," he said.

"We don't want to pump that down the drain."

Today the council will offer the water — which is not for human consumption — free to anyone who needs it.

"If there are farmers and primary producers that might want some access to that water we want to make that happen," Mr Chaffey said.

Mr Chaffey said he recognised the gesture was a drop in the ocean, and the council had other water saving measures in place.

Local councils across drought stricken areas of New South Wales are ramping up water saving measures, and some have agreed to provide water free of charge for stock and domestic use.

National drought talks to be held in Canberra

While local governments are announcing measures for their residents, the Federal Government is holding national talks on drought assistance.

Today national and state farming representatives will travel to Canberra for the "drought roundtable".

Almost 100 per cent of New South Wales is either in drought, on drought watch or experiencing the onset of drought, while 57 per cent of Queensland is classified as in drought.

The dry conditions are also gripping parts of other states.

The National Farmers Federation, NSW Farmers Association, Agforce Queensland, Victorian Farmers Federation, Western Australian Farmers Federation and South Australian Farmers Federation are all expected to attend.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced the meeting last month.

"This roundtable will discuss long-term drought policy and strategy in the context of building resilience and drought preparedness during a changing climate," he said at the time.

State farming groups are expected to raise a number of potential changes to federal drought assistance, including the complicated process for farmers trying to apply for the Farm Household Allowance, a payment equivalent to the unemployment benefit for those suffering financial hardship.

The Minister said he was investigating how to achieve that.

"I've asked the Department of Agriculture to look at ways the FHA application process can be further streamlined," he said.

"The fact is that receiving benefits through Centrelink requires proof of financial situation and assets."

Mr Littleproud encouraged people applying for assistance to seek help.

"Rural financial counsellors, for which I extended funding recently, are there to help farmers fill out FHA forms and I fear some farmers have not taken advantage of this," he said.

"I also urge farmers not to self-assess whether they're eligible — please use the rural financial counsellors as that's what they're there for."

While calls for further government subsidies are unlikely to get traction, there are other organisations offering direct relief.

The New South Wales Country Women's Association is offering $3,000 emergency grants from its disaster relief fund, to be used on groceries, car maintenance and household and medical bills.

Littleproud calls for big banks to back drought measure

The major banks have been invited to the talks, the Government wants the big four to back its plan for Farm Management Deposit (FMD) accounts — so far only The Rural Bank has.

Primary producers can move money into the accounts, reducing their taxable income and storing the funds to a difficult year.

Mr Littleproud has previously encouraged the banks to "regain their standing in the community" following the banking royal commission by backing the FMD initiative.

"I call on the big banks to offer farm management deposit offset accounts and help our farmers manage through the good and bad years. Farmers grow the food we eat — including food for the bankers," he said.

"The big banks need to right their wrongs. Our banks should back our farmers."


© ABC 2018

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