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NSW farmers call for more drought help

Michael Condon and Lisa Herbert, Thursday January 9, 2014 - 09:11 EDT
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The drought is worsening in NSW - ABC

NSW farmers are increasingly saying they are being ignored and their pleas for drought help are falling on deaf ears.

At a meeting in the town of Pilliga last night 80 farmers called on the state and federal governments to give them more drought help.

Some of the farmers at the meeting expressed the view that NSW Minister Hodgkinson has failed in her duty of care to the drought affected areas to the east of Walgett Shire

They called for an immediate drought declaration for their area, immediate access to fully costed water cartage for both stock and domestic, household support, a suppression of 'failure to feed' prosecutions and for support to be provided for small businesses directly affected by drought.

Judy Field has about 7000 acres in the region. She says they have been in drought for 18 months. They have sold just about all their breeding stock.

She says July 2012 was the last time she had good runoff rain.

But what's worse is the water supply.

"It is even worse than 2002/3 drought in terms of water availability. Even the gum trees are starting to die."

Judy Field wrote to the Minister Hodgkinson in July expressing the dire situation in this end of the Narrabri shire.

But she was upset that while the Minister did reply she didn't answer the question about why that end of the Narrabri shire wasn't included in nearby drought declarations.

And it seems that the money that is allocated is not easily accessible by the farmers in drought.

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says $18 million has so far been allocated to the state's farmers under the Federal Government's farm finance assistance package.

Speaking after touring the state's drought-affected west this week, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says another $22 million remains available for farmers in NSW before July.

The package provides low interest loans to farmers who have experienced debt difficulties, and who can prove themselves 'viable'.

In Queensland, only half of applicants have been given the green light, with officials there saying the unsuccessful applicants failed to demonstrate a need for the concessional loans or didn't demonstrate their business' viability.

Critics continue to argue the assistance is in the wrong form i.e. it assists with debt restructuring but provides minimal avenues to help pay off that debt.

Mr Joyce says he's also aware that some farmers think the process is too hard and the paperwork too great but he wants farmers in NSW to persist.

"All these are very valid concerns and I've instructed my department to look at ways to streamline the application process.

"I want the money to be lent out. We go through this process to have it assist the people it's supposed to assist."

NSW Farmers President Fiona Simson says the slow uptake or the low numbers of that money being allocated shows that the policy is not working.

She says that drought should be treated like any other extreme climate event as a natural disaster which would give farmers access to very cheap loans and interest rate subsidies that would enable them to rebuild the farm business.

Farm export income, she says, is very important to the Australian economy and should be assisted in the bad times.

She says the problem is getting the political support in Canberra and in Macquarie Street, Sydney to make sure that happens.



© ABC 2014

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