PM Turnbull Promises Emergency Relief to Drought-Stricken Farmers in Regional Australia
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an emergency relief package on Aug. 5, whereby drought-stricken farmers could receive up to $12,000 in cash payments.
The prime minister visited Trangie, in the central west of New South Wales (NSW), where he announced a $190 million package to assist farmers who have been affected by drought.
Under the emergency package, changes will be made to the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) where couples in a household could receive up to $12,000 in two lump sum payments in addition to the current allowance, while single households could receive up to $7,200 in two lump sum payments.
The payments will be made on Sept. 1, 2018, and March 1, 2019.
“What that will do is provide additional cash in this coming year. It appears we’re going into a dry Spring and a tough Summer. We hope the forecast to prove wrong but the prospects are not great at the moment,” Turnbull said during a press conference on Aug. 5.
The emergency changes will also lift the asset ceiling for the FHA from $2.6 million to $5 million.
Severe droughts are affecting several states across the nation. National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson previously told the Australian that droughts were not only devastating regional NSW but has also affected parts of Queensland, South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, large parts of Victoria as well as South Australia’s Mallee.
She said the additional funds “will provide eligible farmers with a much-needed cash injection.”
“It’s vital that we help farmers and families that are dealing with the stress and pressures drought brings,” Simson said in a statement on Aug. 5.
Turnbull, who was joined by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, said the recent droughts are the worst Australia has seen since 1965 and acknowledged that the harsh conditions will continue to evolve, which may require further responses by the government.
“We are the land of droughts and flooding rains. We recognise that. It is a very volatile and often capricious climate,” Turnbull said.
“We are, as we have all said, the land of droughts and flooding rains, but we haven’t had a drought this bad for a very, very long time, since the Bureau of Meteorology says 1965. I can say from my own experience, it’s worse than the millennium drought in ‘06–’07 and a lot worse than the ‘82–’83 drought, which was also one of the worst.
“These are very exceptional circumstances and it’s important that we react and respond with the support that farmers need.”
The prime minister also highlighted the challenges of mental health faced by people living in remote areas. He said the government is making changes to the Medicare schedule to ensure it becomes easier for people to seek support for mental health problems.
Previously people had to attend three of the 10 mental health consultations in person, including one of the first four consultations. This usually meant people would drop out after the third consultation.
To ensure people continue to get the support they need, Turnbull said the scheme will now allow people to complete all 10 consultations over the phone or online.
“These are bleak times and a lot of people find it very hard to cope,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t want to go into town, they don’t have the time to go into town, they’re shy about doing so, and so they have three tele-health consultations and don’t have the fourth then drop out.
“Now you can do the full 10 over the telephone or tele-health face time over the telephone or whatever. This is very important to improve that mental health support.”
McCormack echoed the prime minister and acknowledged the important role farmers have in the nation.
“We live in a country where farmers have built this country. They are indeed the backbone of this country. When farmers do it well the whole nation benefits, when farmers do it tough, as they are now the whole nation suffers,” he said during the press conference.
“We, as a government, are right there by their side, right behind them, and supporting them all the way.”
— Michael McCormack (@M_McCormackMP) August 5, 2018
Turnbull also paid tribute to farmers for their resilience.
“Australian farmers are some of the most resilient and innovative business people in our country. Some farmers are in absolutely diabolical situations,” he said.
“Australian farmers know they face the challenges of an unpredictable climate. So they are already resilient. You should never regard Australian farmers as being helpless at all in the face of the climate. They live in this climate. They understand it better than anybody. And our job is to make sure we support them and enable their resilience.”
The Aug. 5 announcement takes the government’s total drought relief to $576 million. The NSW government has also provided more than $1 billion in assistance for farmers.