Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
As soon as I took on the job, I made it clear that dealing with the drought was one of my biggest priorities.
That’s why we are establishing a $5 billion Future Drought Fund that guarantees support against future droughts faced by farmers and communities in rural and regional Australia.
The Fund starts with an initial $3.9 billion investment. Each year $100 million in earnings will be available to be used to fund important water infrastructure and drought resilience projects, while the balance is ploughed back into the Fund, so it grows to $5 billion over the next decade.
The challenges of drought vary from farm to farm, district to district, town to town and we continually need to adapt and build capacity – the Future Drought Fund gives us this opportunity.
It will provide community services, research, assist adoption of technology, advice and infrastructure to support long term sustainability in the event of the drought, through capital and ongoing initiatives.
This funding will support farmers and their local communities when it’s not raining.
The impact of the drought is not just felt on the farm. Spending dries up in regional towns as the drought worsens, which threatens the prosperity of local businesses.
Regional communities in drought-affected areas will also receive immediate help with the Drought Communities Program extended from 60 to 81 local governments – giving each of these communities $1 million to stimulate their local economies.
This boosts our total commitment to this program to $81.1 million, helping communities stimulate their local economies through new or upgraded community infrastructure, road upgrades, and water infrastructure projects.
We are also establishing a $50 million On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme to provide financial assistance to primary producers in drought affected regions, assisting them with up to 25 per cent of costs associated with the purchase and installation of new on-farm water infrastructure to provide water for livestock.
The Scheme will provide support for on-farm infrastructure including piping, tanks, bores, troughs, pumps and fittings and desilting and for drought management activities to lessen the impact of drought on animal welfare and reduce grazing pressures on pastures.
Individuals, farmers and communities need fast and easy access to information and support available to them. A new online Farm Hub hosted by the National Farmers Federation will provide a single, trusted point of access to information and services, providing farmers, families and regional communities with access to a comprehensive listing of available support, data and resources.
While drought-affected farmers and communities are renowned for their resilience, the ongoing dry conditions have hit farming families and rural communities hard and extra support is needed.
That’s why we are increasing funding for mental health services by $15.5 million in drought-affected areas across Australia, delivering early intervention and community well-being services.
$11.9 million will expand mental health services at the six existing Primary Health Networks subject to drought, adding two new areas in the Nepean Blue Mountains area and South Eastern NSW.
And we are investing a further $3.6 million to expand Medicare Benefit Services to enable local doctors to offer mental well-being support services via telehealth to rural and remote patients. This is the first time local doctors will be able to offer this service in drought-affected areas to their local patients.
We will also help to take some of the pressure off farmers and their families by helping them to keep food on the table, pay their bills and meet their basic needs.
Our Government will give $30 million to the key charities to provide support to at least 10,000 households facing hardship. This will help individuals and families to get by while returning the money to local communities.
Today we have built on more than $1.8 billion in assistance measures and concessional loans to support drought-affected farmers and communities that we have already rolled out.
I want to thank the continued work of the Coordinator-General for Drought, Major General Stephen Day, and the Special Envoy for Drought Assistance and Recovery, the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP as they work with farmers across the nation.