Labor has called on the federal government to deliver its cash support payments to drought-stricken farmers faster.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Sunday up to $12,000 for eligible households spread across two payments on September 1 and March 1.
But with a dry spring and summer forecast, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten believes farmers should have the option of bringing the entire payment forward to next month.
“We support this package but it needs to be rolled out faster – farmers need immediate financial support,” Shorten said.
The lump sum payments are on top of the Farm Household Allowance, which totals about $16,000 a year.
But the allowance’s application process has been criticised, with the government urging about 19,000 potentially eligible farmers to speak to rural financial counsellors.
Shorten said he was deeply concerned government cuts to Centrelink would cause delays in processing applications.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the entire state of NSW is affected by drought, as is 57 per cent of Queensland.
There are severe rain deficiencies in Victoria and South Australia.
Shorten will kick off a tour of some of the worst-affected areas of Queensland on Thursday, alongside his wife Chloe and the opposition’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon.
Labor also plans to implement a $20 million regional economic development fund which invests in projects to stimulate country economies.
“The regions have a bright future and Labor wants to ensure they have all the help they need to get back on track,” Shorten said.
The Labor leader will travel to Longreach and Barcaldine on Thursday before going to Emerald in Queensland’s Central Highlands on Friday.
Meanwhile, Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud has had “constructive” discussions with farm groups and banks around drought policy.
“We’ve agreed to use the NFF’s drought policy as a model going forward, with reference to Senator Barry O’Sullivan’s important work on drought policy,” Minister Littleproud said.
“We’ll also refer to work on the Agricultural Business Model, which recognises the cycles of farming and the phases of drought.
“There are no rivers of gold coming – we’ve already invested $1.3 billion in this term of government and we won’t be returning to interest rate subsidies – but I think it’s always important to listen and hear feedback on what can be done better. I think today was a good example of this.”
Westpac’s $100m fund
Westpac has created a $100 million fund to loan to drought-affected farmers, who will be able to offset money put away in good times against money they’ve borrowed.
It comes after Agriculture Minister David Littleproud piled pressure on the bank to let farmers offset farm management deposits against their loans.
Earlier in the week, Littleproud encouraged farmers to tell Westpac to “jam it” and take their business elsewhere.
But the bank has now joined Commonwealth Bank, Rabobank, NAB and Rural Bank in falling in line with the minister’s demands.
Westpac will offer an interest adjustment for customers with farm management deposits to effectively offset balances against eligible business loans.
ANZ is the remaining lender yet to offer a farm management deposit offset.
The $100 million fund will provide loans of up to $1 million to existing Westpac agribusiness customers at discounted variable interest.
Drought-affected farmers with Westpac will also be able to defer principal and interest repayments for up to 12 months on existing loans.
Westpac’s national agribusiness manager Steve Hannan said drought was the most difficult challenge farmers could face.
“Taking into consideration the widespread impact of the drought, we are committing $100 million to lend exclusively to eligible drought-affected customers to help them through these challenging times,” Hannan said in a statement.
If you want to donate to the Aussie Farmers who have been affected- click here.