Setback for $60 million funding deal

Kate PollardThe West Australian
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Farmers waiting for Federal assistance announced in late April will now have to wait until after the election.

Federal Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was due in Perth this month to sign the deal that would have given WA farmers access to loans of up to $200,000.

Queensland and Victoria have already signed on the dotted line.

A spokeswoman from WA Agriculture Minister Ken Baston's office said with the Federal Government now in caretaker mode, there would be no more movement on the package until after the election.

It's another frustrating hold-up, the spokeswoman said.

The package had been delayed until the State and Federal Government agreed to split the $5 million administration cost.

Yet to be determined is the package's exact criteria, which, in WA, are set down for productivity improvements, not debt restructure.

"We are not alone, all the other States, except Queensland and Victoria, are in the same position as WA. We have agreed in principle, but the Commonwealth has not sent us any paperwork to sign," the spokeswoman said.

If a Liberal government is elected, the State Government has been assured the package will be implemented with more flexible terms and conditions.

Meanwhile, the State Government last week announced 60 additional farm businesses would be able to access the $25,000 grant after it reallocated $1.5 million from the $7.8 million package.

Originally capped at $5 million with 200 grants available, demand has been strong with 348 applications received, 217 approved and 108 rejected.

Funds have been redirected from social support and rural counselling service grants and undersubscribed farm exit support grants.

The State Government is confident eligible farm businesses will be covered, but for many in the eastern Wheatbelt, the situation is becoming increasingly grim.

Most of the declined applications, according to the spokeswoman, would have been on the basis they didn't meet one or more of the criteria.

Mr Baston said there had been steady demand for the grant due to tough years and lack of rain this season across the Wheatbelt.

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