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PM and Ag Minister brace for farmer horror stories

By Catherine Clifford, Friday February 14, 2014 - 21:10 EDT
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Sheep on the dry ground at Kigwigil station, about 40 kilometres north-west of Walgett in northern NSW. - ABC

The federal Agriculture Minister and member for New England, Barnaby Joyce, is this weekend flying with the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, to visit drought-affected areas of Bourke, Broken Hill and Longreach.

On Friday, Mr Joyce said it would be out of the question to call in the military to provide temporary relief to farmers wanting to transport fodder to starving animals.

But he did say he's held talks with Assistant Treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, to discuss measures that might help landholders in financial trouble.

Barnaby Joyce says drought preparedness is still the key.

"We should have settings that allow the individual to manage for themselves for the first two years and then acknowledge after that it becomes excessively difficult and the government has a role," he said.

"Therefore, our longer term plan is to make sure things such as farm management bonds, depreciation all the things that can encourage people to prepare for a drought are well in place."

Barnaby Joyce says he doesn't want to use mental health issues as an emotional lever to secure drought support.

He says he sympathises with the trauma being felt by many farming families, but says it can't be the determinant for a long-term drought solution.

"Mental health issues run both through droughts and when there are not droughts," he said.

"Mental health is an issue that needs to be dealt with the greatest care and people in remote areas who are under stress have more exposure to it so, therefore, we always try to let people know that help is merely a phone call away."

Meantime, the federal member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, will meet the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in Bourke.

He says he'll introduce him to farmers who are struggling in his electorate.

"It's a very brief visit and we're going to a property and we're going to meet some farmers from the Bourke area, Lightning Ridge, Walgett and Brewarrina; ones that I've been in contact with now for some time," he said.

"I believe that's the most productive use of the Prime Minister's time to talk to a small group of informed people who have been living this drought for a couple of years."

Mark Coulton says Australian farmers have made a strong contribution to the economy, and now times are tough they are owed some help.

"If we make it so that farmers have to walk away and we start having fire sales the ramifications would be massive," he said.

"Australian farmers, along with the mining industry, kept the country out of recession when the global financial crisis was on and a little bit of assistance now is but a small price to pay to keep, not only the farm sector on level pegging, but the Australian economy."


- ABC

© ABC 2014

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