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Calls for relief for drought stricken farmers' education costs -

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MARK COLVIN: Rain in parts of western Queensland in the past week has raised hopes that the drought may finally be over.

The long, dry years devastated pastures, and wiped out incomes for many farming families.

There were federal and state funded relief packages, but support groups say more targeted measures are needed to help families get back on their feet again.

Nance Haxton reports.

NANCE HAXTON: In many parts of western Queensland, they're calling it liquid gold. For some pastoralists it's the first rain they have seen in more than three years.

But it may not be drought-breaking, and farm families still need help.

Kim Hughes is president of the Isolated Children's Parent's Association.

KIM HUGHES: Once some of these areas have had rain, it's very easy to think oh, okay, the drought's broken and we all go back to normal but the recovery period for these families is really significant.

NANCE HAXTON: With the school year just started, Kim Hughes say help paying school fees is an urgent priority.

KIM HUGHES: So that families that were in drought declared areas would be able to get assistance from that scheme for their boarding school fees.

We have eight shires in Queensland that actually don't have a secondary school and all of those shires are drought declared so you know, they have to send their kids away, they have no other choice.

NANCE HAXTON: Rainfalls have been patchy, with neighbouring properties often having radically different fortunes.

Drought declarations still cover 86 per cent of the state - that's the largest extent of land in Queensland ever to be in drought at the same time.

Queensland Agriculture Minister Leanne Donaldson says the Government will help farmers recover.

LEANNE DONALDSON: We certainly need to see good follow-up rain and the local drought committees will wait until April to reconvene and then sort of have a look at whether enough rain has fallen to actually say that it has been drought-breaking.

NANCE HAXTON: At the moment, drought relief from the state covers agriculture costs only.

Ms Donaldson says that's unlikely to change.

LEANNE DONALDSON: My department administers the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme, which is actually designed to provide in drought business assistance and it is about ongoing drought costs for their businesses to prevent livestock from starving or dying.

But that assistance isn't something that extends to other household or education expenses.

But you know certainly across the board in a number of ways, the Queensland Government is providing assistance.

We've as government have spent a record amount on our drought assistance programs since the drought began and we also want to make sure we are not duplicating money that's been provided by the Australian Government.

NANCE HAXTON: In Charters Towers, they've been mowing the lawn for the first time in years.

Graziers and rural lobby group Agforce president, Grant Maudsley.

GRANT MAUDSLEY: Some big totals out there in places, just what they're looking for.

For some people it's actually not because it just hasn't been enough for some people unfortunately so we're a bit all over the shop if you like in terms of who's had it and who hasn't had the rain, you know?

NANCE HAXTON: Like others, Grant Maudsley says it is still too soon to call the drought over.

GRANT MAUDSLEY: You know, it's a bit of a hard one to say. For some people, they won't be re-stocking, they won't have had enough rain, so for some people certainly not.

It is very, very variable, you know.

Look, I'm nervous even saying that some people are good and some are bad because that's how variable it actually is.

Some people are getting really good cattle prices, for people who've got stock so there's some really good news out there in the industry and everyone else has just got to catch up a bit, that's all.

NANCE HAXTON: It's provided a bit of hope.

GRANT MAUDSLEY: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that's certainly what it is.

NANCE HAXTON: Families want the Government to consider different ways to relieve the huge costs of living in the most remote parts of the country.

Kim Hughes from the Isolated Children's Parents Association says people will quit the land if they can't afford to live there.

KIM HUGHES: For a lot of these small communities, if they can't afford the fees and they move away, they're also taking the younger siblings out of the primary school system, so we're seeing a real population decline in the primary schools in these areas because the families just can't afford the boarding school fees.

Some of these people have been in drought for going on five years now.

MARK COLVIN: Queensland Isolated Children's Parents' Association president Kim Hughes ending Nance Haxton's report.