Comment: Hot air does little to ease drought

Zach RelphCountryman
Tensions between Federal Government and the WA Government are reaching boiling point, as the rangelands simmers through its heatwave.
Camera IconTensions between Federal Government and the WA Government are reaching boiling point, as the rangelands simmers through its heatwave. Credit: Simon Santi

A political war of words about who is providing financial aid to drought-stricken farmers and pastoralists is not the relief WA’s parched producers need.

The argy-bargy came as Federal Drought Minister David Littleproud this week trumpeted his claims that up to $224,447 in Commonwealth funds are available to farmers per year in direct financial drought aid, while savaging the McGowan Government for offering no funds to producers battling drought-like conditions.

However, it begs the question: how much of the $224,447 is available to WA farmers and pastoralists?

The money allocation is divided across five assistance measures, with each offering an annual financial benefit to a farmer or household:

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— RIC Drought Loans’ Repayment Savings: $151,692.

— Drought Community Support Initiative: $3000.

— Farm Household Allowance: $26,244.

— Assistance for Isolated Children: $11,011.

— Water and Fodder: $32,500.

The Water and Fodder program, allowing farmers to purchase discounted water, is available only to farmers in the southern connected Murray-Darling Basin, according to the Department of Agriculture website.

WA farmers and pastoralists are also unable to tap into the Drought Community Support Initiative and secure the $3000 per year, as no WA local governments have been included on the Federal Government’s Drought Communities Program.

However, it is understood WA could become eligible if the program holds another round, potentially opening the door to DCSI access.

As for the Farm Household Allowance’s $26,244 annually? Currently, only 87 farmers across WA receive the payment, but it is understood that more are eligible to secure the funds.

The bulk of Mr Littleproud’s $224,447 total is made up of $151,692 in repayment savings generated from a Regional Investment Corporation drought loan.

The savings is calculated on a $2 million drought loan using a commercial rate of 6.5 per cent and is based off one year of the loan’s two years interest and principal repayment free period.

Farm businesses in WA are able to apply for the drought loan if they have a drought management plan, are in financial need of a loan and have “sound prospects” of ongoing financial viability.

Taking everything above into account, the most a WA farmer or pastoralist can claim in Federal drought aid is $188,947 annually, given they have a $2 million drought loan, are one of the State’s 87 farmers receiving the Farm Household Allowance and are eligible for the Assistance for Isolated Children.

If a farmer does not have a drought loan or is not receiving the Farm Household Allowance, it is likely they will be able to secure only $11,011 per year in Assistance for Isolated Children funding — a stark difference from Mr Littleproud’s $224,447 total.

Rather than continue the political squabble, could politicians please unite and work together with pastoralists to bolster long-term drought resilience?

It could bring the relief farmers and pastoralists desperately need.

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