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New South Wales: Prime Minister visits drought-affected areas in Gunnedah.

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Wednesday 27 November 2002


New South Wales: Prime Minister visits drought-affected areas in Gunnedah.


MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister’s tried to reassure farmers in drought stricken areas that the Government will put their needs for relief payments on the fast track.


The Prime Minister was visiting Cobar, in western New South Wales, and Gunnedah, in northwest New South Wales.


He also told the farmers he’d consider taking the responsibility for drought relief payments away from the States and putting it in the hands of the Federal Government.


Drought reporter Brigid Glanville.


BRIGID GLANVILLE: The last time the Prime Minister was in Gunnedah, he waded through six inches of mud after major flooding.


Today, he shook his head at the devastating affects of the worst drought in one hundred years.


FARMER: August 4.2 millimetres,


JOHN HOWARD: You’ve got another one in May, 2.


FARMER: May 2, April 6, so extremely dry.


JOHN HOWARD: And that’s below the desert level?


FARMER: Well desert, I think, desert was ten inches, and we’ve had 7 and a half…


JOHN HOWARD: I remember that from my jogging years.


FARMER: And we’ve had 33 days frost in the winter, which compounded things…


JOHN HOWARD: Yeah, that makes it only worse, doesn’t it? Yes.




BRIGID GLANVILLE: In conjunction with the 4 million dollars announced to go towards drought relief, he also announced they would help fast-track areas to be declared ‘exception al circumstance’.


Farmers in Gunnedah are still waiting for the area to be announced as ‘exceptional circumstance’.


That declaration entitles them to interest rate subsidies on their loans, and family payments through Centrelink.


At the moment, the declaration requires Federal and State agreement, and farmers complain this process is too slow.


The Prime Minister told reporters he would push applications through, and look at taking responsibility away from the States, and making it a Federal Government decision.


JOHN HOWARD: But under present arrangements, we have to wait until the States put in applications, but I can assure people that as soon as applications come in they’ll be dealt with quickly, and Mr Anderson and I have signed off on some further administrative arrangements to ensure that if any come in over the Christmas/New Year period, they’ll be dealt with expeditiously and there won’t be any delay because people may be away on leave or any of that business.


BRIGID GLANVILLE: Will you look at changing the EC criteria so it doesn’t involve State Governments and you’re able to…


JOHN HOWARD: Well that is one of the things that I will look at, yes. I think anything that involves the…


My experience has been that anything that involves the processes of two governments, inevitably you get delays and difficulties. It’s far better to have total control over something.


BRIGID GLANVILLE: After the quick farm tour, he met with over one hundred business owners, community leaders, and school children, to find out how the drought is affecting them.


A number of businesses put ideas to the Prime Minister about drought relief for regional centres.


Businessman Ken McKenzie says the Prime Minister responded well to his concerns.


KEN MCKENZIE: Well when I asked him as to what his Government was considering for small businesses he said, his answer was he was collecting viewpoints and ideas from within the community; so let’s hope that the lights are on and there’s plenty of people at home to listen to those views.


MARK COLVIN: Gunnedah businessman Ken McKenzie ending Brigid Glanville’s report.