Governments Spending Lots On Drought And Farmers, But Could Do More

"It's a start. I think the government could do more"

Help, good will and -- most importantly -- money has been pouring into NSW and Queensland farming communities in recent weeks, as primary producers battle a devastating drought.

But while the NSW government has kicked in $500 million and the federal government another $190 million in assistance for farmers in recent days, those on the land say it's really just a drop in the bucket that won't go far enough.

At the same time, other governments haven't been so generous and have copped criticism for certain spending choices, such as the nearly $50 million to "commemorate the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s first voyage to Australia and the Pacific", including an aquatic monument to the landing of his ship.

Or the $247 million to "renew and continue the National School Chaplaincy Programme", a scheme many parents don't even want their kids enrolled in.

Moving the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale, blasted as "pork-barrelling" from the former deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, is estimated by Labor to cost up to $60 million.

Some of our politicians spent up to $97,000 in the January-March quarter on "office administrative costs" which include office consumables, printing and communications, publications and telephone services -- not even rent,  which is a separate expense, which some politicians billed the taxpayer for to the tune of over $100,000 a quarter.

Meanwhile, a Christmas party for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission's Christmas lunch this year, to be held at Sydney's swanky harbourside venue Doltone House, will set taxpayers back $43,200.

A crippling drought is right on Sydney's doorstep. Image: Emma Brancatisano

No one is suggesting these expenses aren't worthwhile, above-board or value for money, or that governments -- state and federal -- haven't done the right thing in kicking in emergency funds for the drought, the fact of the matter is this: even the many millions of dollars won't go all that far.

Farmers are crying out for water for their crops and stock, and feed for their animals.

Many farms have had to destock already, selling off important stock or cutting down to bare minimum breeding animals. The NSW government emergency drought relief provides $190 million for transport subsidies, to cover up to half of the cost of transporting food, water or livestock; $100 million for reducing the cost of farming fees and charges; and $150 million for the Farm Innovation Fund program.

The federal $190 million program allows farmers to access two additional cash payments of $6000, as well as additional support for mental health and rural financial counselling services.

Despite the huge injection of funds, farmers say it won't go as far as many would think, and some have said even the process itself -- with a thick stack of forms to fill in -- might not be worth the effort.

"It's a joke, a truck load of hay is $15,000 plus right now," one farmer wrote in a drought Facebook group focused on the drought.

"$6000 or even $12,000 isn't even a full load never mind anything else."

Another man in the same group called it "a woefully inadequate small picture ‘solution’ that will barely make a dent in the problem at hand". A third farmer said the $6000 payment would only be "enough to feed our stock for one week".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Strathmore Farm in Trangie NSW, as part of a trip visiting communities struggling with drought. (AAP Image/Ivan McDonnell)

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended his government's federal spend on the drought, saying the money was meant to support families not farms.

"The money is not designed to subsidise fodder. The way it works is the state governments provide the fodder and freight subsidies in Queensland and New South Wales," he told ABC's AM radio program.

"Under the National Agreement between states and federal government, we provide support for families. What we have with the Farm Household Allowance... we've added to that supplements, substantial cash supplements. I have to say they've been very well received."

Cawdor dairy farmer Tony Biffin told ten daily the federal announcement "is not going to feed anyone’s animals. But as far as the household support goes, I think it will hit the spot as far as helping people in need. It will bring a wide range of people back in on that household support, which is what it was arranged to do."

"It will never be enough money to feed everyone’s animals, and I don’t expect the government to do that."

A culture of resilience sees farmers suffering in silence. Image: Emma Brancatisano

As for the state government funding, Biffin said that too would be welcome relief -- but it would only go so far.

"The transport subsidies help. But it's the cost of the feed as well," he said.

"This freight rebate will be good. It's capped at $20,000. It's a start. I think the government could do more."

While state and federal governments have been rightly praised for their efforts, many are hoping more assistance is incoming.

If you want to help Australian farmers in need, you can donate to a registered charity. Donate online to Rural Aid's Buy a Bale, Drought Angels or Lions' Need for Feed. You can also support farmers by buying Australian grown produce at your local supermarket.
Contact the author: jobutler@networkten.com.au