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Drought-hit towns anxiously await federal economic stimulus package

By political reporter Gavin Coote, Thursday October 24, 2019 - 07:56 EDT
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A new bush stimulus plan could be announced as early as next week. - ABC

Hopes have been raised in drought-stricken towns that the Federal Government is on the cusp of delivering a stimulus package, with local mayors urging a generous spend.



The ABC understands Cabinet is finalising a new bush stimulus plan, which could be announced as early as next week, aimed at ensuring employers retain workers.

It comes three weeks after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg went on a drought tour to Inverell, Stanthorpe and Warwick.

Inverell Mayor Paul Harmon said he had emphasised to the Treasurer that it was not just the farming sector in dire financial straits.

"It's the people that service the quad bikes, selling the fuel, selling the tyres," Cr Harmon said.



"It's not only just in our retail sector, it's in the service sector and we're seeing now some companies going to a four-day week for their staff, so we highlighted to [the Treasurer] the crucial fact of retaining key staff.

"We have some companies where staff are being laid off. But also we have businesses that have been proactive and they've agreed to reduce their work hours and obviously take a pay cut to be there for when it does rain again."

It is understood the stimulus package being discussed by Cabinet could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, while the Nationals — the Coalition's junior partner — is separately pushing for a major spend in the bush.

Documents obtained by the ABC reveal the Nationals' drought proposal amounts to $1.3 billion, with local committees established to allocate grants, though the Federal or state MP would have the power of veto.

'Governments don't have an endless bucket of money'

The ABC understands any stimulus package being considered by Cabinet would not jeopardise the plan to deliver a budget surplus next year.

Tracy Dobie from the Warwick-based Southern Downs Regional Council in Queensland was another mayor who had the Treasurer's ear during this month's drought tour.

She said she empathised with the Federal Government's need to balance the budget.

"I'd like to think that many Australians can stand back and say I understand they need to stay in surplus," she said.

"Maybe there's a way that they can invest in rural Australia but at the same time keep our economy ticking over and keep the surplus."



Cr Harmon said he understood "governments don't have an endless bucket of money" but a big financial injection was needed.

"No point having money down the track if there's no community to actually provide assets and infrastructure to," he said.

The NSW Government has its own $170 million drought stimulus package, which has been directed to airport and road upgrades, along with industrial park expansions in rural towns.

Cobar in the state's west has so far received $4.4 million under that program and its mayor, Lilliane Brady, said she was keen to see the Federal Government do its bit.

"I don't know that they're doing as much as the state government, but it's early days and we've got to have help for our businesspeople in town," Cr Brady said.

"We've got to keep the shops open."

Cabinet's expenditure review committee will meet next Wednesday to consider options for an economic stimulus, and potentially sign off on a final plan.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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