Govt looks at options for drought support

TOUGH SEASON: Regional Council of Goyder mayor Peter Mattey, RBS CEO Brett Smith, Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone, Grain Producers SA CEO Caroline Rhodes and Livestock SA president Joe Keynes at Robertstown.
TOUGH SEASON: Regional Council of Goyder mayor Peter Mattey, RBS CEO Brett Smith, Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone, Grain Producers SA CEO Caroline Rhodes and Livestock SA president Joe Keynes at Robertstown.

THE SA government is not considering freight subsidies to assist drought-affected farmers, but help with annual costs may be an option, Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone says.

Speaking at a drought meeting at Robertstown – “one of the hardest hit areas in SA” – on Tuesday, options were discussed to help farmers tackle a second consecutive dry season.

The Bureau of Meteorology lists Robertstown rainfall to the end of October of 153 millimetres at Robertstown, compared with an average of 296.6mm for the same period, while at Australia Plains, only 111.5mm was recorded, down from 258.3mm.

At the meeting a crowd of local farmers voiced their issues, including difficulty sourcing feed. While some questioned if a freight subsidy for fodder could be put in place to match those in NSW and Qld, Mr Whetstone said there were indications a subsidy in SA would only result in interstate governments raising their payments.

“Government intervention, such as subsidies, distorts and disrupts the market and I'm loath to talk about them,” he said.

But he said assistance for Natural Resource Management levies, council and water rates could be considered.

“These are things that really do help and are something we would give consideration to,” he said.

Mr Whetstone attended the federal drought summit in Canberra on Friday and said SA had not been forgotten. Among the announcements was a fund of $1 million each to go to 17 SA councils.

“This new funding injection into droughted areas will enable councils to deliver local projects that create employment and build the resilience of communities,” he said.

Mr Whetstone said he would continue to lobby for other councils to be included.

Another issue was drought declarations.

“Here in SA we don’t declare drought, instead we have support available 365 days a year for anyone doing it tough,” Mr Whetstone said. “With exceptional circumstances, if you’re on right side of a line, you get help, on the wrong side, you miss out.”

But the failure to declare a drought left some concerned SA farmers may miss out on potential bank interest rate deductions or charity funds specially earmarked for “drought” areas.

Australian Plains farmer Peter Schiller said there was also a psychological link.

“If we call it a drought, we know people are acknowledging the problem,” he said.

Rural Business Support chief executive Brett Smith said there was plenty of support available and people should not self-assess and rule themselves out before speaking with rural financial counsellors.

“We are not a service of last resort – eligibility is based on being in financial difficulty or at imminent risk of financial difficulty, which could include a lot of people,” he said.

Mr Smith said options were the Farm Household Allowance or concessional loans from the Regional Investment Corporation, or emergency funds from the Country Women’s Association.

  • Details: Visit pir.sa.gov.au/grants_and_assistance/drought_support 
This story Govt looks at options for drought support first appeared on Stock Journal.