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Rudd Government looks to cut crucial drought support by 2010

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The Hon John Cobb MP Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

The Draft Productivity Commission Report ‘Inquiry into Government Drought Support’ commissioned by the Agriculture Minister, Tony Burke highlights farmers concerns that the Rudd Government is set to abandon rural and regional communities battling one of the worst droughts in the Nations history.

“First the Rudd Government tried to get rid of drought by commissioning a report which recommended abolishing the word drought and referring to it as ‘dryness’, now the Productivity Commission has revealed their real agenda,” the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, John Cobb said.

Mr Cobb said there was no doubt EC funding needed to be reformed and that there were worthy farmers missing out.

“However, this report is nothing more than a Rudd Government white wash aimed at cutting help and support to our rural and regional communities.

Recommendations made by the Productivity Commission include; the terminating of the Drought Exceptional Circumstances (EC) Interest Rate Subsidies and Income Support by 2010 irrespective of seasonal conditions, and the EC declaration process should also be terminated with no new areas, full or interim to be declared and current declarations ceasing by 30 June 2010.

They also recommend State Government’s should terminate transactions based subsidies such as transport subsidies for fodder, water and sending stock away for agistment.

“The Productivity Commission also slammed support to small businesses in drought EC regions claiming; ‘the scheme was introduced with little consultation or justification.’

“Minister Burke must reject these recommendations and guarantee continued support for farmers and small businesses in EC areas until the drought breaks.

A furious Mr Cobb took the Treasury driven Productivity Commission to task for seeing nothing but dollars leaving Treasury, totally oblivious to the Nations food security, the effects on productivity and the ability of rural regional communities to quickly recover when the drought breaks.

“Dwight Eisenhower once said: "Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pen and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." He could have been commenting on the Productivity Commission.

Mr Cobb said no-one would miss the Productivity Commission, but people would miss the cheap, clean, environmental friendly and safe food provided by the worlds’ best farmers.

“The Reserve Bank recently released figures quoted by the Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke that farm debt had climbed to $58 billion, up $7.2 billion from the previous year.

“To argue that farmers aren’t helping themselves is ridiculous and that EC Interest Subsidises was supporting only inefficient farmers was also garbage.

“The current drought is like no other I have ever experienced and not even the best farmers could have prepared for this.

“Right now many regions are not even going to get a crop off this year and with costs such as fuel, fertiliser, chemicals, storage and transport reaching record levels. It is vital that our food producers can be in a sound financial position to keep growing our food.

“A key role of the Productivity Commission is to advise the Treasurer on matters related to industry and productivity and I am extremely concerned that the Rudd Government will leap on this report and cut vital drought funding,” Mr Cobb said.