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More NSW producers to receive full Australian Government drought assistance.

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AFFA03/267WT - 2 October 2003

More NSW producers to receive full Australian Government drought assistance

Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Warren Truss today announced another three Exceptional Circumstances (EC) declarations in New South Wales covering around 4000 farmers.

Eligible primary producers in Braidwood, the Central Tablelands and Mudgee-Merriwa regions of NSW can now apply to Centrelink for full EC drought assistance, Mr Truss said.

Mr Truss said he had also referred two more applications for EC assistance in NSW - for farmers in Gundagai, Goulburn and Yass - to the National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) for independent assessment.

Eligible farmers in Goulburn and Yass RLPBs, and in Gundagai RLPB in those parts of Divisions B and C east of the Hume Highway and all of Division D, will be able to receive income assistance from Centrelink until a decision is reached on their EC application.

Mr Truss said today's EC declarations cover all eligible primary producers in the Rural Lands Protection Board (RLPB) of Braidwood and all eligible livestock producers in the Central Tablelands RLPB.

The EC declaration also covers all eligible broadacre producers (mixed livestock, crop enterprises and broadacre livestock) in Divisions C, G, and parts of Divisions E, F and H of the Mudgee-Merriwa Rural Lands Protection Board district.

Eligible producers in these areas can now apply for interest rate subsidies of up to $100,000 a year for two years, and income support for up to two years.

"Eligible producers may apply for EC Relief Payments at Centrelink offices, or by calling Centrelink's National Drought Hotline on 13 23 16 (except on national public holidays)," Mr Truss said.

"Farmers should contact the NSW Rural Assistance Authority on 1800 678 593 to apply for EC interest rate subsidies.

"People operating small businesses in these EC-declared areas who are experiencing a downturn because of drought can also now apply to Centrelink for interest rate relief on new and existing loans of up to $100,000. They may also call Centrelink's National Drought Hotline for further information."

Mr Truss said he had also accepted recommendations from NRAC in regard to reviews of a number of EC applications in NSW.

"In reviewing these applications NRAC were looking particularly for evidence of a severe and prolonged downturn in income due to the drought, a key criterion for EC assistance.

"Through the year, the NRAC recommended to me that certain EC applications be considered again to assess whether seasonal conditions had deteriorated significantly to meet the criteria needed for an EC declaration.

"In June the Australian Government extended interim assistance for producers awaiting an NRAC review until the end of September, to provide producers with support while the NRAC completed its reviews in the light of winter cropping prospects.

"The NRAC has now completed reviews in several areas based on updated information provided by the NSW Government. The NRAC found a case had not been made that a severe and prolonged decline in income had occurred for producers in Hay, Eastern Riverina, Nyngan, South West Slopes and Plains, Riverina and North West (excluding West Moree) who are not covered by an existing EC declaration.

"The government is still to determine if there is a case for EC in West Moree, but I expect that a further announcement will be made shortly.

"With today's announcements there are now 19 EC-declared areas in NSW. Nearly 7,000 applications for EC income and business support have now been approved in the state.

"For those producers not in receipt of EC benefits the Australian Government provides support through the AAA Farm Help program, which is available for any eligible producer who is in severe financial difficultly and who cannot borrow further against their assets.

"In these difficult times I urge farmers to visit their local Centrelink office or call Centrelink's National Drought Hotline on 13 23 16 to discuss what assistance

may be available to them."

Further media inquiries:

Minister Truss' office: Tim Langmead - 02 6277 7520 or 0418 221 433