The Minister for Agriculture seems incapable of providing any straight answers on drought assistance when questioned in the Chamber.
In frustration I have sought answers from Barnaby Joyce through Questions on Notice, which I received today.
His response with respect to the $280 million Drought Concessional Loans Scheme states that as at the 30 September 2014, there have been 144 applications received – 66 (46%) were approved and 26 (18%) were declined, leaving 52 (36%) applications yet to be processed. More than half remain outstanding or have been declined.
In Western Australia, the Drought Concessional Loans Scheme only opened for applications on 23 September 2014, some seven months after the Prime Minister’s drought tour. With an average processing time of 30 days, it’s fair to conclude that no Western Australian farmers are yet to receive drought concessional loans assistance.
Only $41.4 million of the $280 million dollars allocated for drought concessional loans has been spent and the program will cease to exist on 30 June 2015.
This means drought affected farmers only have eight months to apply for drought specific concessional loans. Any money not spent will be returned to consolidated revenue and will no longer be available to assist farmers in better preparing themselves for drought.
Furthermore, only farmers in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia can apply for drought specific loans, leaving farmers affected by drought in other States with fewer options for drought assistance.
As we head into another dry summer Barnaby Joyce needs to ensure that all farming families are fairly treated by his drought assistance package.
Given what we now know, it’s no wonder he refuses to face up to these questions in the Parliament.