Bishop sent to hear farmers' woes

Shane Wright Economics EditorThe West Australian
Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce meet Bourke grazier Phillip Ridge yesterday.
Camera IconTony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce meet Bourke grazier Phillip Ridge yesterday. Credit: REUTERS/Andrew Meares

Drought-hit farmers across WA will have to discuss their plight with member for Curtin Julie Bishop after Tony Abbott headed in the opposite direction in a lightning trip to Queensland and NSW.

The Prime Minister, who visited the western NSW town of Bourke and the Queensland centre of Longreach, will not travel to WA to see drought conditions.

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The Government is due to make a major drought package announcement next week.

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Ahead of the weekend trip, Mr Abbott had used a statement to highlight the "very dry conditions" facing parts of Victoria, South Australia and WA.

Last month, the drought-hit eastern Wheatbelt was affected by extreme temperatures and a massive dust storm that stripped valuable top soil.

A spokesman for Mr Abbott said he would not have time to visit drought-affected parts of WA.

"Julie Bishop will be providing an extensive briefing to Cabinet on the drought-hit areas of WA," the spokesman said.

"However, the Prime Minister will be visiting WA very shortly."

The heavens opened soon after Mr Abbott arrived in Bourke, which received about 120mm of rain last year. The area's average is closer to 350mm.

Touring a 40,000ha farm, Mr Abbott said it was important to "see and feel" how the locals lived.

He later told a community gathering at a woolshed, as the rain drummed on the tin roof, that the Government's response to the drought would cover income, finance and social support.

Seventy per cent of Queensland and more than half of NSW is in a drought. Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said he believed those in the city would back a "significant" government support package.

Mr Abbott told Longreach locals at the Stockman's Hall of Fame that he believed drought support was more akin to "natural disaster" relief than industry assistance.

The Government has recently rejected funds for Holden and SPC Ardmona, despite Mr Abbott declaring after the election Australia was "open for business".

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would back appropriate measures for farmers and rural communities.

"We are certainly 'open for business' when it comes to assisting our farmers," he said.

with AAP

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