The dairy assistance package Barnaby Joyce has announced today comes late and falls short of what farmers need right now.

Nearly four weeks after the dairy crisis first emerged, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce declared he had been unable to do anything for farmers because of the election caretaker conventions.

Today he has announced a package for farmers with no consultation with Labor at all.

We have been clear that we will support an appropriate and meaningful support package that helps farmers get through the current crisis. It is not clear the package Mr Joyce has released this morning meets this test.

Barnaby Joyce needs to pick up the phone and consult with Labor urgently on the details of today’s announcement so that we can get real assistance to farmers sooner. 

The Turnbull Government is trumpeting $555 million in concessional loans, which includes $500 million the Government had already committed for loans over the next two years through its Agriculture White Paper.

It appears many of the affected farmers would have already been eligible for these loans because they live in drought-declared areas.

Concessional loans will have a role to play here but their effectiveness will depend on the ease and quickness of application and approval processes, as well as the repayment terms. The Turnbull Government does not have good form on these fronts.

Barnaby Joyce has also belatedly realised that affected farmers are having trouble accessing the Farm Household Allowance payment.

For many months Labor has been warning that farming families struggle to jump through Centrelink’s hoops. The Turnbull Government is finally now promising to fix the problem – it should have done so long ago.

Mr Joyce has refused to back my call for the Murray Goulburn Board to invoke its ability to adjust the profit sharing arrangements which apply under its capital-raising venture.

While farming families are right now living in fear of losing their businesses, investors are still in a position to reap a financial reward.

In its prospectus, the Murray Goulburn Profit Sharing Mechanism makes it clear that the directors can vary the profit split “in certain abnormal circumstances”.

I can think of no greater abnormal circumstance than the crisis facing our dairy farmers. The Board should suspend returns for unit holders and instead pay farming families more for their milk.

The adjustment would provide an immediate boost to the milk price and give instant cash relief to farmers.

Labor will continue talking to farming communities about what they really need to get through this crisis, just as we have been from the start.


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