27 April 2012
Australia will officially be drought free for the first time in over a decade next week as the final two Exceptional Circumstances (EC) declarations come to an end.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Senator Joe Ludwig said the expiry of EC declarations in Bundarra and Eurobodalla next Monday marked a major milestone for agriculture in Australia.
“The extended period of drought – which made things tough for many on the land – is finally over,” Minister Ludwig said.
“The seasonal outlook is brighter than it has been for many years and the improved conditions are a welcome reprieve for farmers across Australia.
“Now is the time to progress drought reform. We need to take this opportunity to transition from reacting to crises, to a pro-active policy approach that prepares our farmers for the future.”
The Federal Government is working with State and Territory Governments to progress new drought policy, with reform a key topic for discussion at the first Standing Council on Primary Industries meeting being held in Adelaide today.
“As previously agreed with State and Territory Ministers, and recommended by the review of pilot drought reform measures in Western Australia, our reform will see a national framework introduced which focuses on risk management and preparedness, rather than on crisis management,” Minister Ludwig said.
“A major step toward that framework will be phasing out the EC interest rate subsidy, which given the end of the final two EC declarations, will conclude on 30 June this year.”
Over recent years Australian, State and Territory Agriculture Ministers have recognised that the EC Interest Rate Subsidy does not assist the farming community to prepare for future challenges, including drought, or improve risk management.
“This is a move recommended by successive reviews of drought policy since 1997, including by the Productivity Commission, which found the subsidy resulted in farm businesses being less responsive to drought conditions,” Minister Ludwig said.
“The end of the subsidy will clear the way for new arrangements which help farmers better manage risk and prepare for challenges associated with drought, rather than the previous approach of waiting for a crisis before offering assistance.”
Minister Ludwig said the Government was committed to putting in place the right policies to assist farming families and communities to cope with the effects of drought.
“As we work to develop and implement reform it’s important we support those farmers still suffering hardship – that is why the Gillard Government will provide funding for the Transitional Farm Family Payment until June 2014,” he said.
“The payment provides up to 12 months of income support for farm families as well as individualised case management to help families in hardship and improve their long term security. The payment is available for all eligible farming families in need, with or without an EC declaration.
“The drought is over, but it's important farming communities know hardship support is still available.”
Information on the Transitional Farm Family Payment program is available from the Department of Human Services website or by phoning the Farmers Assistance Line on 1800 050 585.