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‘This isn’t welfare’: PM pledges another $100m for drought-ravaged farmers

More than $33 million will also be available for farmers across the country to help pay for groceries and power bills as they fight one of the worst droughts on record.

Five Victorian councils – Moyne, Gannawarra, Pyrenees, Strathbogie and Swan Hill – have been added to the list, Temora, Murray River and Kyogile in NSW and North Burnet, Banana and Western Downs in Queensland.

Coorong and York Peninsula in South Australia have also been drought declared.

Western Downs deputy mayor Andrew Smith said the region had not seen rain since March.

“It is still very very dry here, it has been for some time, and without being too negative, the forecasts are not that positive either … we are in for some tough times,” Cr Smith said.

“It is a bleak picture, but we are a very resilient region. The moment we get rain, even though it doesn’t rain money, we will start to move again.”

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Mr Morrison said there were many reasons why often people in rural communities and farmers won’t reach out for help.

“Sometimes, you know, they feel like that they shouldn’t and my message to them is you should. You work hard. This isn’t welfare. This is really just helping people make sure that they can maintain viability,” he said.

He said the cash, which came on top of $7 billion of other drought commitments over the past 12 months, was an “important investment” in Australia’s farming assets.

The government has overhauled the application process and criteria for its Farm Household Allowance following an independent review.

Less than half the farmers considered eligible had accessed the fortnightly payment, leading to criticism from agriculture groups over the program.

A review into the system and farming leader linked the low uptake to farmers pride and their reluctance to go into Centrelink offices to get the assistance.

The panel recommended the “decoupling” of the drought assistance from social security.

The changes announced by Mr Morrison include removing the requirement for business income reconciliation, changing the time limit on payment from four years in total to four out of every 10 years and simplifying the assets test.

For the first time couples will be able to apply for the payment using just one application.

The Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul will also be given an additional $30 million for local support programs.

Breakdown of cash

  •  $33.42 million for the Drought Community Support Initiative, which gives up to $3000 for farmers to spend on food and bills. 
  •  $1 million for 13 more local governments to spend on local infrastructure and “drought relief products”.
  • $51.1 million to expand and streamline the Farm Household Allowance.
  • $30 million for the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul for local support programs.

Mr Morrison said about $40 million of the new funding would be spent this financial year.

He said funding provided for financial counselling would help farmers manage the paper work, noting financial counsellors in regional Australia has been “angels” helping people make sense of the process.

“I know that things are only getting harder for many farmers and rural communities, and that’s why we are taking further action and providing even more support.

“We know we can’t make it rain, but we must keep finding ways to do everything we can to make life just a bit easier and remove some of the burden. That’s why our government is providing more money to help people with bills, more money for counselling and more money to local councils.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the announcement was “too little too late” from the Prime Minister.

“He cut $3.9 billion from the Building Australia Fund, and now he’s announcing that $100 million of that $3.9 billion is to be brought forward,” Mr Albanese said.

“We said at the time that legislation was being debated precisely that the $100 million per year should not start in a year’s time. It’s not like the drought has just happened, it has been here for years.

He said the opposition welcomed any further assistance to the farming community.

“They’re doing it tough and it’s about time the government recognise that and act.”

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