Author: Joanna Woodburn and Nour Haydar (abc.net.au)
Date: 30th July 2018
The New South Wales Government's drought assistance has tipped over $1 billion, after a fresh cash injection for struggling farmers the Premier says have faced an "unforgivably dry winter".
The Berejiklian Government had been criticised by regional stakeholders, including at last week's NSW Farmers Annual Conference in Sydney, for not doing enough to support those in dire straits on the land.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian today announced an additional $500 million in emergency funding to help drought-affected farmers.
The Emergency Relief Package includes $190 million for the introduction of transport subsidies of up to $20,000 to help cover the cost of transporting fodder and water.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the additional funding will help farmers who have faced an "unforgivably dry winter".
"We knew as a government we had to do more," she said.
Transport subsidies will be back-dated for expenses incurred since January.
The NSW Government has waived Local Land Services rates, fixed water charges and class-one agricultural vehicle registration costs.
NSW's Farm Innovation Fund — which helps farmers improve their infrastructure to better deal with weather fluctuations — has also been boosted by $150 million as part of the package.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro said the relief package would assist farmers who had been forced to source fodder from interstate as local supplies diminished during a drier than expected winter.
"We said we would constantly reassess the conditions and relief measures," he said.
"The fact we've now increased our drought relief package to over $1 billion is a reflection of how serious this drought is, and how much we value the health and wellbeing of our farming and regional communities."
The NSW Farmers' Association welcomed the "generous" package but stressed the importance of it being easily accessible.
"It's not only the big costs that affect farm business cash flow. It is the small, ongoing commitments that add up," the association's president James Jackson said.
The association said the decision to backdate the subsidies recognised that planning for drought happens before the country is dry.
As part of the emergency funding, farmers will also be eligible for waivers on Local Land Services annual rates, fixed charges on water licences, registration costs for class-one agricultural vehicles, and interest on existing Farm Innovation Fund loans.
The package also includes funding for counselling and mental health services, drought-related road upgrades and animal welfare and stock disposal.
The NSW Rural Assistance Authority will begin processing applications from next Monday.
Inland rail hub for Parkes
Premier Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro also unveiled the Government's 20-year vision for regional areas, announcing it will spend millions of dollars building an inland rail hub in Parkes.
They said the first investment would use a $4.2 billion slush fund from the sale of the Government's shares in the Snowy Hydro.
Parkes has long been identified as the epicentre of the Brisbane to Melbourne Inland Rail project, and construction on the route to Narromine is due to begin soon.
The landmark long-term plan for regional areas also puts investments in water and energy infrastructure as a key priority.
The Government said it planned to create more than 250,000 new jobs in regional areas over the next two decades.
Mr Barilaro said he expected the increased spending on infrastructure could attract an extra 185,000 new residents to live and work in regional areas.