The Federal Government is taking a cautious approach to its new drought support policy and will trial the idea of grants in the good times in Western Australia, where no farmers are drought affected.
The Government promised that farmers in drought-affected areas who are receiving assistance will continue to receive income relief and interest rate subsidies until the drought is over.
About 6,000 farmers from Karratha to Esperance will be able to apply for relief measures under the program which will be trialled for one year.
Measures include financial grants for farmers experiencing hardship or who are trying to exit the industry, as well as a new focus on mental health services in farming communities.
WA Agricultural Minister Terry Redman says the current exceptional circumstances system does not help drought-stricken farmers soon enough.
“The current arrangements have a very reactive focus where we need to request to the Federal Government to have an area declared as exceptional circumstances,” he said.
“In essence that is two consecutive years of worse-than-one-in-25-year conditions. We presently have no declared areas and would not be eligible for that until at least January 2012.”
Mr Redman’s federal counterpart, Tony Burke, says the proposed new system will start on July 1.
“Normally the approach that governments have adopted is when times are in crisis we’re there and we’re helping out, and when times are good, the government normally disappears from the scene,” he said.
“This is the first time that we’ve decided to say, ‘hang on, when times are good, let’s not bail out’.
“Let’s actually stay there then [and] help farmers prepare for the future so that next time there is a crisis, fewer people hit that crisis.
“In terms of the wellbeing of a farmer, it’s a much better deal. In terms of productivity for the nation, it’s a better deal for the country as well.”