The Government unveils its latest package of drought support measures


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07-11-2019 07:30 PM



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07-11-2019 07:30 PM



07-11-2019 08:05 PM

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2019-11-07 19:30:55

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SALES, Leigh




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The Government unveils its latest package of drought support measures -

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STATEMENT FROM THE BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY: September rainfall was below to very much below average for much of Australia.

Long-term rainfall deficiencies, record low for some periods, continue to severely limit water resources across the Murray-Darling Basin.

LAURA TINGLE, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In Cumnock, in central western New South Wales, James and Sally Morse were waiting for the latest announcement from the Morrison Government about what it will do to ease the burden of what some meteorologists have called the worst drought in Australia's history.

JAMES MORSE, FARMER: We made the decision as a family unit to sell all our cows and calves.

So they went down to Victoria in the high country there. So they're pretty happy on pretty good grass down there at the moment but for us the big decision was to not have too much pressure on the family going through summer.

We're probably sitting at about 50 per cent of what our longer-term average rainfall is. We've got records going back to the early 1900s here.

LAURA TINGLE: The millennium drought hit parts of southern Australia for the best part of 15 years between 1996 and 2009.

The current drought may not have lasted as long - yet.

But its sheer breadth has made it especially brutal and now winter rains have failed for three years in a row, the first time ever.

The geographic extent of the drought means it isn't just hitting one or two primary industries - it's hitting all of them.

And coming less than a decade after the millennium drought, the current drought is cutting a savage path not just through farming families but rural towns and economies.

RODD GRIBBLE, CONTRACT HARVESTER: People leave town, that's what happens.

They leave town because there's no work and they go to the cities and that takes the teachers away, some nurses away, if there's a hospital there, police away, every other service and eventually guts the town.

LAURA TINGLE: Rod Gribble is just one person who is not on the land himself but who is suffering the fallout of the drought.

He's a contract harvester, currently working on a grain farm to the north of Griffith but good harvests have been hard to come by and overheads for this sort of equipment are very high.

RODD GRIBBLE: One of these pieces of gear behind me, doesn't matter what colour they are, you know, there's three quarters of a million dollars there easily.

It's still a really, really tough business because the costs are high. The window of opportunity, in other words, to make money.

LAURA TINGLE: This afternoon in what he calls the Canberra bubble, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Natural Disasters Minister David Littleproud unveiled the Government's latest efforts at addressing the hardship being experienced in the bush.

SCOTT MORRISON, PRIME MINISTER: Of over a billion dollars in new interest free loans that will be made available to farmers and grazing families, as well as small businesses within local communities that are dependent and service the agricultural sector.

And this gives them the massive breathing space to be able to make the investments, pay the employees on the farm, do the work that they need to do, purchase fodder, agist their stock, make the decisions that they know they are going to need to take over the next few years to ensure that they get to the other side.

RODD GRIBBLE: As long as we can, you know, find the detail, see the detail and it's not too onerous as in the paperwork, to one, apply and be successful, I think that's a great idea and a great facility that the Government has done.

JAMES MORSE: We've obviously geared or trying to gear our business so we don't need to rely on government handouts and things like that.

Obviously we're going to take advantage of it while it's there.

LAURA TINGLE: Many of the measures announced today are new tranches of funding for existing schemes where the money has run out.

Designed to inject money into drought-hit communities by grants to councils and in emergency relief to households.

The National Farmers' Federation lobbied the Government hard for a range of assistance measures, including exit loans, which it didn't get, but president Fiona Simson says the important thing is getting the money out there.

FIONA SIMSON, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS' FEDERATION: Announcing them is one thing and we're very grateful for the announcements the Government has made but I think getting that assistance out there in the field to satisfy the expectation that people have and also the bodies that are meant to be delivering this assistance is really, really important.

And it is, we can't wait, once these measures have been announced.

LAURA TINGLE: Beyond the interest free loans, there's money for child care and for schools in financial hardship, including fee relief for borders and there is a deal with South Australia which will release an extra 100 gigalitres of water at heavily discounted prices to allow for growing fodder which can be sold on to other graziers.

JAMES MORSE: School numbers at the local school have obviously dropped off a little bit in the last couple of years and we've been a bit lucky as the local school there in that the Government has guaranteed that extra teacher for the next year as well.

So that certainly helps us out there but there's going to be longer-term impacts on communities as the people that leave to chase employment elsewhere.

LAURA TINGLE: There have been groups hit by the drought who often fall through the cracks of assistance schemes, notably Indigenous communities.

Businesses in the primary production chain, like Rod Gribble's, which have previously fallen through the cracks seem to have been looked after this time but there's been a history of drought assistance not always turning up as promised.

SCOTT MORRISON: And that's why the Government, I announce today, will provide $30 million to selected charities to continue their important work of supporting farmers, farm workers and farm suppliers facing drought-induced hardship.

And organisations like the CWA and others who are doing a tremendous job and we look forward to their participation in this program.

LAURA TINGLE: The CWA is the Country Women's Association - one of the most iconic organisations in the bush with a long history of supporting their communities.

But when that $30 million dropped, the group found it actually would not be able to take part in distributing the money because it didn't meet the guidelines.

TANYA CAMERON, PRESIDENT, COUNTRY WOMEN'S ASSOCIATION: It would have required us to change our process and change our forms and we've been successfully distributing funds.

We had already distributed probably close to $14 million or more across the states that were already distributing aid and quite successfully.

SCOTT MORRISON: This isn't welfare. This is really just helping people make sure they can maintain a viability.

TANYA CAMERON: Sometimes we get these big announcements and then the process to actually get the funds on the ground, get the changes made actually take a lot longer than what we would anticipate and at this particular point in time, I don't think it's fair to people in the situation that they're in, to actually promise something that can't be delivered pretty much straight away.

LAURA TINGLE: Besides the Country Women, the Government has announced new allocations of household relief through Vinnies and the Salvos.

MAURIE RYAN, ST VINCENT DE PAUL SOCIETY: This drought is being hailed as the worst in living memory for most people.

LAURA TINGLE: Maurie Ryan at Vinnies was responsible for getting some of the first round of household assistance out to farmers earlier this year.

There was a top-up announced in September which would allow up to another $3,000 per family for household bills but red tape has intervened.

Documentation to let organisations apply was only put up on government websites on Tuesday. The approval process is long and complicated.

MAURIE RYAN: We can't really start committing to people until we actually have the Federal Government money in the bank and we're hoping that happens sooner rather than later.

LAURA TINGLE: It's all about certainty - now and in the future.

JAMES MORSE: As a country I believe we need to have a sort of vision for how we'd like this country to look in 50 to 100 years' time and I think that's lacked when you get a different government in for three years, every three years and it's essentially about buying votes and whatever to get them.

Went over to the neighbours for dinner on Tuesday night after Melbourne Cup and a catch up. I mean, we're still there and we're just all doing the best we can within the circumstances.