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JobKeeper 'a kick in the guts' to farmers struggling to get drought assistance

By Xanthe Gregory, Tuesday June 23, 2020 - 08:48 EST
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Advocate Edwina Robertson says drought assistance is slow compared to COVID-19 payments. - ABC licensed

While 3.5 million Australians are covered by the Federal Government's JobKeeper program at a cost of about $70 billion, only $8 billion has been set aside to respond to this drought and prepare for future ones.

Queensland farmer Edwina Robertson said she saw a major difference between the assistance offered to millions of people during the coronavirus pandemic and the help given to farmers during times of drought.

"This money is so accessible with no red tape," she said.

"It's a kick in the guts to people in rural Australia who've done it tough for so long."

All too often, Ms Robertson said, farmers were criticised for not saving their money for a "rainy day".

"There'd be plenty of people who've lost their jobs now who wouldn't be able to survive even two weeks without government assistance," she said.

"[But] that's what's expected from country people."

Ms Robertson said the hoops farmers are forced to jump through to get assistance has driven many off the land altogether.

Bleeding dry

New South Wales Farmers association executive councillor Bruce Reynolds said most support made available to agriculture was loan-based, while coronavirus assistance was a direct grant that did not have to be paid back.

It could take several years to even qualify for drought assistance, he said, with some producers waiting up to 18 months for the Regional Investment Corporation to process those loans.

"Farmers can be financially haemorrhaging before they are eligible to receive drought assistance," Mr Reynolds said.

Ninety-seven per cent of businesses were receiving JobKeeper payments within three business days of applying, according to Treasury.

Mr Reynolds said the nation's reliance on farmers should have sunk in when shelves were stripped bare.

"But you get a couple of good seasons, then people forget about the drought or forget about COVID and supermarket shelves being short of commodities," he said.

Sheltered in the city

Sport administrator Elle Carroll, 21, lost her job in Newcastle when indoor sporting venues were ordered to shut down.

When she went to apply for the JobKeeper allowance she realised she was ineligible, and was left uncertain of when her next pay cheque would arrive.

"I remember thinking a few years ago … it's not the government's job to bail farmers out," Ms Carroll said.

Ms Carroll said it was obvious the government does not do enough to support regional communities.

"The message you still get is you're more important if you live in the city.

"It's taken a global pandemic for some of us to be understanding of what it's like to not have money coming in."

Between April and May the pandemic affected the jobs of almost 2.3 million Australians.


© ABC 2020

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