I appeal to the Prime Minister not to mislead farming families and raise false hope by declaring any bring-forward of the July 1 changes to farm household support as an answer to the current drought crisis.
While any bring-forward would be welcomed, there is little difference between the post July 1 regime and the current transitional farm household payment which is in place to bridge the gap between the old Exceptional Circumstances payment and the new July 1 payment. The bring-forward would have little Budget impact.
The Prime Minister and Barnaby Joyce need to do at least 3 things:-
1. Build on Labors Farm Finance concessional loan scheme by reducing the concessional interest rate in recognition of the growing severity of the drought and by further relaxing the guidelines to ensure severely drought affected farmers qualify.
2. Resuscitate the COAG process to complete drought reform agreements.
3. Use the COAG process to further Labors aspiration which was for new natural disaster arrangements which would address severe drought events.
The May 2013 COAG agreement was preliminary in nature only. The work was always to be on-going. In the absence of the completion of that process, both the States and the Commonwealth stand to avoid substantial outlays in the current dry event.
The next key work for COAG was to be around natural disaster, yet in six months of the Abbott Government nothing appears to have been done.
The 2013 agreement states:
SCoPI has agreed indrought support should be provided through a phased approach. This allows governments to tailor the type or level of support provided to farmers and/or rural communities as conditions change. The different phases are:
measures available at all times
existing measures increased to address growing demand
measures introduced to address identified needs.
In the wake of the last COAG agreement the DAFF website advised:
New or additional measures or programs will be subject to agreement by individual governments and will only be introduced if they are consistent with the principles for indrought support, and when existing measures are found to be deficient. Governments may elect to use an independent advisory committee to help inform its decisions on such programs.
We need to develop and pass legislation, build supporting IT and train staff, including case managers, before the allowance can be delivered. This means that the new allowance will begin from 1 July 2014.
In the meantime, the Transitional Farm Family Payment is available until 30 June 2014 for farm families suffering financial hardship.
The time for talk is over, its well past time the Abbott Government did something meaningful for farming families now desperately in need.