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Queensland's Western Downs and Maranoa farmers to receive interim federal drought relief.



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AFFA03/052WT - 20 March 2003

Queensland's Western Downs and Maranoa farmers to receive interim Federal drought relief

More than 2,000 farmers in five more drought-affected shires of Queensland's Western Downs and Maranoa region can now apply to Centrelink for interim income support and interest rate relief, Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss announced today.

Mr Truss said he was satisfied a prima facie case has been established in an application for drought Exceptional Circumstances (EC) assistance for the area.

The application, jointly prepared by rural lobby group Agforce and Cotton Australia, and lodged by the Queensland Government, has been referred to the National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) for a full assessment. (A full description of the area, including boundary details, is attached)

"With today's prima facie decision, farmers in the Bendemere and Taroom shires, and parts of the Waggamba, Tara and Murilla shires, are now able to apply for interim Federal drought assistance," Mr Truss said.

"Farmers in parts of the Balonne, Waroo, Bungil, and Booringa shires covered by the EC application are already eligible to apply for assistance under the terms of the Commonwealth's drought assistance package announced on 9 December 2002."

Mr Truss said the region has been affected by serious rainfall deficiencies since January 2001, forcing livestock producers to reduce stock numbers and buy feed for their core breeding cattle, and irrigators to severely reduce production," he said.

"Recent rains have provided a glimmer of hope for primary producers across the country. However, I am aware that recovery times will be longer for some enterprises than others," he said. "The application will now be considered by NRAC.

"A successful EC declaration would trigger assistance for a total of two years in the form of fortnightly household assistance from Centrelink, and interest rate subsidies totalling as much as $100,000 a year for eligible farmers.

"NRAC will be visiting the region today and tomorrow, and I trust that a decision on a full EC declaration will be made shortly.

"In these difficult times, I urge farmers to contact Centrelink and discuss their eligibility for assistance as soon as possible."

Mr Truss said that he had also accepted a recommendation from NRAC in relation to EC assistance for irrigated producers in southwest Queensland.

After receiving additional information on cotton enterprises in the area, NRAC was unable to determine that those farm businesses are suffering from a rare and severe event.

"However, NRAC will reconsider the circumstances of cotton irrigators in the southwest Queensland EC application as part of their assessment of similar producers in the Western Downs EC area.

"Given that the cotton irrigators in both applications share access to water from the same catchment it makes sense to assess both areas simultaneously.

"I would remind irrigated producers in southwest Queensland, that they can continue to apply to Centrelink for interim income support and interest rate relief on new and additional loans until 8 June 2003."

Application forms for interim income assistance and interest rate relief are available from local Centrelink offices or by calling 13 23 16.

Western Downs and Maranoa EC application area

● The shires of Taroom, Bungil, Booringa, Bendemere and

Warroo;

● That part of the Balonne Shire which is east of the Balonne

River, Balonne Minor and Narran River and north of the Balonne Highway. The remainder of the Balonne Shire is included in the EC application for South West Queensland.

● The western and northern portions of Waggambe Shire from

the New South Wales border along the South Toobeah road to Toobeah and then to the Weir River east and north to the Rugby Road. The Rugby road is followed east to the Leichardt Highway. The highway is followed north a short distance before turning east on the Billa Billa-Mt Carmel Road to the Gore Highway. The Gore Highway forms the southern boundary from this intersection to the Waggamba-Milmerran Shire boundary; and

● Tara and Murilla Shires west of 1500E longitude.

Further media inquiries:

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