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Labor States turn their backs on drought stricken farmers.



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HON WARREN TRUSS MP MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY

AFFA02/222WT 2 September 2002

Labor States turn their backs on drought stricken farmers

The refusal of State and Territory Labor Governments to provide any financial support for Exceptional Circumstances policy reform demonstrates Labor’s total disregard for the plight of drought affected farmers, Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said today.

Mr Truss was commenting on a letter signed by State agriculture ministers last Friday in which they rejected any extra funding toward proposed new and more generous Exceptional Circumstances (EC) relief arrangements.

“I am deeply disappointed that my efforts over two years to reform EC have been blocked by uncaring State Labor Governments,” Mr Truss said. “While the States were prepared to accept the proposed reforms, it was only on condition that the Commonwealth meet over 95 per cent of the cost.

“I wanted to depoliticise EC policy and offered to share in the decision-making — but it seems Labor only want to use drought stricken farmers as helpless political pawns.”

Mr Truss reassured farmers that the Commonwealth would continue to meet its obligations under the existing Commonwealth/State EC agreement.

The current assistance available to farmers under EC includes welfare support through Exceptional Circumstances Relief Payments (100 per cent funded by the Commonwealth) and business support through Interest Rate Subsidies (90 per cent funded by the Commonwealth).

“In addition, the Federal Government will continue to support farmers facing difficulties who are not necessarily EC declared through the Farm Help program, Farm Management Deposits ($1.2 billion strong), FarmBiz and other elements of the Agriculture - Advancing Australia program at a cost of tens of millions of dollars every year,” Mr Truss said.

He said primary responsibility for assisting farmers in drought has always rested with the States.

“Now it seems some States, which are offering little or no drought assistance themselves, want to shift the full burden onto the Commonwealth,” Mr Truss said.

EC assistance is designed to be only for just that — an exceptional circumstance. It is intended for very rare, once-in-a-lifetime events, and is only intended to be triggered after the usual assistance programs provided by the Commonwealth and the States for disasters have been fully utilised.

“I have proposed a new EC scheme that would have offered more timely and inclusive consideration of applications, more flexible boundaries to EC areas, more generous and effective business support and - hopefully - a depoliticised process,” Mr Truss said.

“This cooperative partnership approach can only be achieved if there is a real sharing of EC costs.

“Currently the States meet only about 4 per cent of the cost of benefits provided to an EC declared area.

“For the current Darling Downs EC declaration, at the end of June the Commonwealth had paid out $16.5 million while Queensland has paid farmers just $600,000.

“In addition, the Commonwealth has paid Queensland $400,000 to administer the interest subsidy component. This is hardly an even partnership. Queensland has also refused to participate in a regional reconstruction program for the affected farmers.”

Mr Truss said the Commonwealth was not attempting to reduce its assistance to farmers or its contribution to EC assistance.

“We simply want a scheme that is more timely and generous, but it must be a fair partnership.”

Mr Truss said the Federal Government would, for the time being, continue to consider any applications for EC assistance under the old arrangements.

“We will try to make the old system work as best we can. If any State is prepared to break this shabby Labor deal and work with the

Commonwealth to deliver a better EC scheme in their State, then I am ready to talk with them immediately.

“Farmers in one State should not have to suffer because of the intransigence of other state governments.”

Mr Truss said Australia could be at the beginning of a very serious drought.

“The Federal Coalition Government will continue to deliver Exceptional Circumstances and other assistance to farmers — but it could have been so much better.”

Further media inquiries: Mr Truss's office, Tim Langmead (02) 6277 7520 or 0418 221 433

The Hon Warren Truss MP Media Office | Media Releases | Speeches

Last updated 2 September 2002

URL: http://www.affa.gov.au/ministers/truss/releases/02/02222wt.html Commonwealth of Australia 2002