PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm very pleased to be joined by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Drought and the Minister for Education. Since June of 2018, our Government has been rolling out our response to the drought that has been sweeping across our country. As every month has passed, the difficulties have increased. And as every month has passed, we have listened, we've learned and we've continued to step up what we've been doing in our response to the drought that is affecting somewhere in the vicinity of around 40,000 farms across the country. And that number is growing.
Our response has had three components. Firstly, to ensure we are providing that direct help to farming and grazing families and communities. We have delivered that through direct cash assistance through the Farm Household Allowance. This puts food on the table, helps keeps kids in school. We've ensured that through the support we've been providing, and I'd say states have assisted with this as well, that we're keeping wherever possible stock watered and fed, caring for the mental health of these families and these communities and also sitting around the kitchen table with them through our rural financial counsellors and helping them with the decisions and the difficult decisions they're making through drought. Supporting those communities by providing stimulus, important stimulus into these communities. Because when the income from the farms and the grazing properties go, then the towns are adversely affected. And so we've been seeking to mitigate that through programmes like the Drought Communities Programme, putting a million dollars into each of these shires, direct cash injection into these communities to keep businesses open, to keep businesses and their employees in jobs, and to ensure that we're also keeping the communities together through these programmes. Their best support in these circumstances is each other. And the Drought Communities Programmes have played an important role in bringing communities together at numerous events, from camp drafts to whatever they've decided is the best way to get people together.
There's been support directly through charitable organisations, more than $50 million through the Salvos and Vinnies and the CWA and others. That's providing $3,000 emergency cash payments to those in these communities, to those most in need. And we want to thank our partners in the charitable sector for doing that. And we have focused on the resilience for the next drought and the one after that, with major investments in water infrastructure, both on-farm and off-farm investments to support the construction and maintenance of silage, to keep farmhands in jobs, on properties, everything from fixing fences to getting rid of weeds and pests and sinking bores.
And then there are the big projects like where Michael and I recently at Dungowan and Wyangala. There are 21 projects currently all around the country and many of those already underway from Tasmania up to north Queensland. And those projects are continuing and being pursued through the National Water Grid. Since the election, we've put in place some $350 million of additional measures direct from the Budget. Things like Farm Household Allowance, drought communities programmes, extensions and so on, over $350 million alone.
Today we're announcing measures which triple that support up to after the election to just over a billion dollars. On top of that, we are providing loan support, which you have seen reports of this morning and my colleagues have spoken about this morning, of over a billion dollars in new interest free loans that will be made available to farmers and grazing families, as well as small businesses within local communities that are dependent and service the agricultural sector.
Now, I'm going to ask my colleagues to run through all of this in all the measures that we have. But just to give you a quick overview. First of all, the funds we're putting into those zero interest loans. What this is doing is supporting farmers and graziers who know they have a future in the sector and are committed to getting to the other side of this drought and knowing that better days are on the other side. And this gives them the massive breathing space to be able to make the investments, pay the employees on the farm, do the work that they need to do, purchase fodder, agist their stock, make the decisions that they know they are going to need to take over the next few years to ensure that they get to the other side. But it's not just that, because we've heard that this support needs to go to those agricultural supporting small businesses in these towns. It can be the local mechanic who's supporting solely what's going on in the agricultural sector. And the ag sector needs them and they need the ag sector. And these same loans of up to $200,000... sorry, $500,000 are providing them with that same opportunity to keep their doors open. They will have debtors on their books that they know won't be able to pay in the short term. And they're going to have to carry that. And this helps them carry that. This is helping them help their communities with what they're doing.
On top of that, we're extending the Drought Communities Programme. And I'll ask David to talk more about that and Michael will talk to you about the drought-affected communities, specifically Building Better Regions programme for the next round. There will also be a supplementary programme on Roads to Recovery. All of this providing direct further and significant stimulus, putting cash into these communities, which will keep them viable and keep their economy ticking over the years ahead as they work their way together through drought. We're also providing a special assistance, as was successful up in response to the North Queensland floods. And I'll ask Dan to detail that, which is helping farming and grazing families keep their kids in school. This is, of all the places that I remember going up to Quilpie with Michael and Bridget and David soon after becoming PM. One of the toughest families I've seen are the Tullys. But when Mrs Tully... the only time she broke down, after all of the things she's been through, which includes breast cancer, by the way, the thing that really got her upset was worrying about whether she could keep her kids in school. And this is as much for the mental health and wellbeing of these families as it is, of course, for the education of the kids themselves.
The other programme we will be announcing today and I’ll ask David to take you through this, is a water programme. We will be releasing 100 gigalitres along the Murray. That will be made available at discounted rates to farmers along the Murray to grow fodder, to increase the amount of fodder that will be available to support farming communities right across the country. This is something that we can do with the support of the South Australian government by us supporting them in cranking up the desal plant and enter into some borrowing arrangements on water, which will enable us to release water down the Murray, where so many of those farmers have seen water going by their properties. This will put them to work to help those farmers, help other farmers, when it comes to growing the fodder that our drought-affected farmers are going to need. This is a practical measure which both deals with the hardship along the Murray. But importantly, deals with making available more fodder, putting more into the system so there's more available to those breeding stock which desperately need it. Michael.
THE HON. MICHAEL MCCORMACK MP, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Thank you, Prime Minister, and it is a privilege to be here with my colleagues. We sat around the Cabinet table yesterday and we talked about what we needed to do because we've listened to our regional communities. We've been out there. We've talked to our farmers across kitchen tables. We've talked to our regional small businesses across their counters. We've heard their stories and we are acting. This is the right help, right now, it's not contingent on the states providing any money. We're doing it as a Federal Government because we know we know that is a stepped process, as the Prime Minister has just said, that this is the right help, the right package, right now. We're going to make sure that our rural and regional communities that are suffering from this terrible drought have the right assistance right now. And it goes to the Building Better Regions Fund. Now, this is the fourth round of that dedicated fund to the regions. We have made it a priority of this Government to make sure that that money always went to the right places. And indeed, this round is going to be a drought dedicated round. So for those drought-stricken communities, they will be able to apply for that $200 million of funding and the communities elsewhere in regional Australia, which are going Ok. They will understand, as I've already spoken to a number of mayors, a number of my colleagues, my parliamentary colleagues, and they understand. They understand that when they're doing it tough, that other parts of Australia come to help them. And they understand that right now they need to be in there supporting those drought-stricken communities. So the $200 million will be going to those drought-stricken local government areas. Those drought-stricken areas which need it the most right now. And we are also providing $138.9 million of roads recovery top-up for those 128 councils, which need to be able to maintain their roads, which need to be able to keep money in the towns. And, of course, whether they use their own road gangs or whether other road gangs come in from elsewhere outside their local government areas, that is going to keep cash flowing in their communities. Because when you get road gangs from outside those council areas, they need to be accommodated. They need to eat. And whilst they're maintaining roads, whilst they're building new ones, they'll be able to make sure that they're spending money in those communities which so desperately need it. We will never walk away from the regions. We will never walk away from our farmers. Never. We are making sure that we are providing the support that they need right now. We don't walk away from our farmers. Not now. Not ever. Bridget.
SENATOR THE HON. BRIDGET MCKENZIE, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Right. Well, despite the drought and the current hardship, we fundamentally believe that Australian agriculture has an incredibly bright future. But as each of us and our colleagues have travelled around drought-affected communities, whether it's in Yeoval, in Dalby last month or in East Gippsland in Victoria, it is tough out there. Our farmers are resilient. They're putting on a brave face. But when you're behind the dairy shed and you ask that very private quiet question, ‘How are you?’ they're not Ok, they are doing it really tough. And so I am incredibly proud to be part of a Government that has made the prosperity and sustainability of agriculture and our regional communities its number one priority. And to be able to stand here and since the election to have delivered a billion dollars into these communities, to sustain our farming families, to stimulate local economies, I think is very precious. So last month we were in Dalby announcing radical simplification and extension of the Farm Household Allowance. Whilst the package today represents a lot of new initiatives, which I know David as Drought Minister will go into. The Farm Household Allowance, as the Prime Minister said, is the way our Government has been supporting the frontline of this drought, our drought-affected farmers putting cash on the table. We've got before the Senate this coming week the legislation that will make sure lump sum payments for every single one of the 1,760 farmers whose four years will end this financial year will be able to access, apply for an access, an additional lump sum payment. The legislation also includes a rule so that myself, as Minister, at any point in time into the future, can assess the conditions, can assess the drought and its impact, and make subsequent lump sum payments as required. We have stood with our farmers and our communities from day one. We won't stop doing that. And Farm Household Allowance is a way we can do that. We're extending it obviously to four years out of 10 on the back of our farmer-led reviews and on the advice of the NFF who wanted to see a time limit of payment. So we are looking forward to delivering that next week and heading to the NT this afternoon and through drought-affected communities over the weekend to meet with them and help flesh out and describe how what we're announcing today can benefit them and their communities.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks Bridget. Dan.
THE HON. DAN TEHAN MP, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks PM. Earlier this year we provided assistance to schools that have been impacted by the floods in Queensland. We did that because those schools were saying to us that they were having parents who were coming to them saying that they needed help and they needed assistance, but they also had other parents who were too proud to do so. The programme enabled schools to be able to provide fee relief, to be able to provide textbooks, to be able to provide school clothing. And so what we're announcing today is using the similar approach that we had for the Queensland floods. $10 million for schools that are impacted by drought so that they can provide relief to families. And one of the other important things that was done in Queensland was when parents came in and sought assistance, what schools were able to do also was able to point them towards counselling to make sure that they were getting the assistance that they needed. And in many cases that the students needed, because, as the PM mentioned, the impact on parents of drought and worrying whether they'll send their children... to be able to continue to afford to send their children to school is a big one. But also the impact on students watching what their parents go through, seeing the toil, seeing the hardship that they have to deal with. We have to be able to provide the assistance as well. So there'll be $10 million for drought-impacted schools. And on top of that, we're also announcing $5 million to help childcare centres who are also being impacted because we want to make sure that those childcare centres can remain open and provide also relief for parents to be able to drop their kids off, get a break, be able to focus on other things, but also for those small children as well to get some time with other children playing and taking their mind off what they would be seeing all around them. So all up, $15 million dollars - $10 million to help schools, $5 million to help childcare centres.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Dan, and David.
THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well, thanks, PM. And as the PM announced earlier, we are proud to say that only in the last hour we have reached agreement with the South Australian government to supply 100 gigalitres of water to the lower southern basin to produce fodder and pasture, to put a real line in the sand in making sure that we can support these farmers with fodder not only now but in the future. There'll be 100 gigalitres delivered by the 31st of April, and we will repay that to the use of the desalination plant. Can I thank the South Australian government for their leadership, taking our hand in understanding the severity of this drought and if it doesn't rain, that we need to secure our fodder supplies into the future. This is one step towards that, making sure that we think outside the square, bringing new water into the basin to make sure that we use it wisely to ensure that all our breeding herd is protected. We will make sure that there are mechanisms in place that the allocations that are provided to where we believe are somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 farmers will be subscribing to. It cannot be transferred. It must be used for fodder production. And so that we can continue to put downward pressure on fodder to make sure that it is affordable for farmers out there. This is a unique step, one that I think we as a Government took boldly and we sought the hand of the state government to come with us. And it just goes to show that sometimes Federation works.
Can I say that we are also complementing this with our new loan regime through the Regional Investment Corporation. Before the election we made a commitment of restocking and replanting loans of $200,000. Well, we're doing better than that. We're now saying let's go to $2 million and not only looking at the here and now being able to produce fodder for those farmers and being able to for them to use that money to buy fodder and water, but also to think to the future because it will rain and they'll need the capacity, they'll need the capacity to restock or to replant. And it takes time for their cash flow to replenish. And so what this does by having two years with no interest and no principal repayments means it gives them time for their cash flow to recover and then it goes to interest only. This is an important step in understanding the agricultural cycle and being in step with it as a Government. But we are going one step further because we understand that the drought extends past the farm gate. It goes into these communities. So for the first time, a new small business loan will be created for up to $500,000 to those businesses that support to provide services and products to agricultural production systems that give them the same regime. Two years with no principal, no interest to give them the opportunity to get back up on their feet, but also to be ready for the recovery. This is an understanding of the important role that they play and how our communities are intertwined between the small businesses and also the farming sector. So this is an enormous step in moving forward. And can I say that those that already had drought loans, it's important to acknowledge that those that already have drought loans will have the ability to switch on to this new regime. So if they've already signed up with the Regional Investment Corporation, they need only contact the Regional Investment Corporation, and they will be able to change to interest-free repayment free for two years. This is a real step forward.
The other regime that we're putting forward is the Drought Community Programme, a programme that has put a million dollars into community’s pockets to make sure we stimulate them in the here and now. And what we are saying is that there is 128 councils that have been identified already and 122 of those are already on it. And today my office is contacting each and every one of those shires to make sure that their circumstances have not changed. And the million dollars will only go to those shires that can demonstrate that they have still the same circumstances. That money will flow early next year. It will open up at the end of this month with their programmes to be back to us by January so that money flows. We're also appreciating the fact that this drought has spread right across this country and the severity in WA is increasing by the day. There is now an acknowledgement that we have to go and support those communities in the same way that we have those in the eastern seaboard. And so there is remit within the program to include WA shires into this as well to make sure that that stimulation continues. This is a whole of government approach, as you've seen from a multifaceted number of departments, and we'll continue to move as this drought moves. We've proven that as we worked through this drought and we will continue in the coming couple of weeks to work with the states. We made a commitment at ministerial council that the states and the Commonwealth would continue to work together. And I will bring together the state agricultural ministers in a drought-affected area, and we'll make sure that we stand shoulder to shoulder.
Today is an opportunity for the states to take our hand. This is not about politics. This is an opportunity to look after those one and a half million Australians affected by this drought, to work together. We've laid foundation stones for them to come with us with rate relief and payroll tax relief, to support us. That would be a stimulus that turns this drought around and gives hope. Today is about hope. It's about the future and making sure every Australian, every one of those 1.5 million Australians as well know that your Federal Government, and your state government is there for you.
Sorry PM, obviously, the Day report that we've released today, there are 18 recommendations, 14 of those have either been completed or are already in progress. There are four that we've accepted and we'll continue to work through that need a considerable amount of work. Our national drought strategy is one that's been in place for some time, all that Major General Day’s report has done is add to that strategy that you are seeing in action. As somebody whose electorate has been in drought for eight years, I can tell you our drought policy, our drought strategy has been in action, making sure those people, those people in Maranoa have had support all the way through and will continue to get the support. We will not take a backward step in this. We have proved that. And anyone that says otherwise is being disingenuous. It's time for the politics to be over. It's time for delivery.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, We'll take some questions on the package.
JOURNALIST: On the concessional loan scheme, Prime Minister, what will the interest rate be after the interest free period? Will there be additional loan officers available to negotiate with farmers? They tell us that they're having trouble now working with the loans offices and secondly, what’s the total amount of interest the government expects to take over the life of these loans?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me make a couple of points. First, the cost to Budget of the interest free loans is actually $77.1 million dollars over the four years. So that's the cost to budget. The concessional loans, so after the interest free period, they will revert to a concessional rate and the Minister can take you through those arrangements. The next set of issues that we're working on, which we’ll make announcements on in coming weeks is increasing, beefing up the delivery capability of our agencies to support this program. That is the next matter that cabinet will be considering and I mean in the next couple of weeks, in terms of ensuring there is the support and resource within the public sector to be able to fully implement these measures, not just now, but into the future. We've seen how effectively this works with the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency. That has been an enormously successful agency, not just in administering the programs, but getting out and about and talking to people on the ground and understanding the very points you've just raised, Mark. And that enables them to set their resource to be able to meet that need.
LITTLEPROUD: Thanks, PM. The current rate is 3.11 per cent, but obviously no one will be repaying a brass wazoo. And for two years, I don't know where the rates will be in two years time, but the rate is reviewed every six months, in May and November. It's predicated off the government bond rate plus the costs of administration. The board of the RIC makes those recommendations predicated on the rules that were outlined when the Regional Investment Corporation was passed through legislation February last year, which sadly was held up. We are some 6 to 12 months behind because we could not get bipartisan support for the Regional Investment Corporation. And so we are working as quickly as we can. You've got to understand that the staff that we put into these places have to have a certain skill set and that's not widely available and we're continuing to ramp up that. But we're working with a service provider through Rural Bank to make sure that that's complemented and ensuring that our turnaround times continue and improve we've got 18 staff on the ground in Orange as we speak now, that will ramp up to 32 as we find the right people. But we will continue to make sure that we expedite this and we get the support by our service providers as quickly as we can. So the delivery of this can be done in a timely fashion.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] 100 gigalitres, the deal with South Australia. What amount of money is the Commonwealth putting into that? How's the deal arranged?
PRIME MINISTER: The total cost we anticipate will be $98.4 million in gross terms. But this will ultimately be a function of what the marginal cost of production of the water is in South Australia. There are two elements to this. There is an immediate 40 gigs which has been committed to by South Australia. And I want to echo what David said. I want to particularly thank Premier Marshall for the generous way that he is engaged with this issue. There will be a review in April which will review back to what the situation is in South Australia. And we have a contingency arrangement in that event that they are unable to continue with that which would deal with using water from Snowy. But that is a contingency arrangement. It's our expectation that we'd be able to, after the review, continue with the program with South Australia. So we'll be meeting the costs of, the marginal cost of producing the water and any administration around that. There will also be a 10 million dollar payment made to South Australia for their drought resilience and their drought support, which will be done with the South Australian government. So, I mean, that is in recognition both of South Australia's own drought situation, but it's also in recognition of the step up that Premier Marshall and the South Australian government have done in partnering with us on this. This enables us to put new water into the system without complicating any of the arrangements around the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
JOURNALIST: Will people with existing loans from other financiers to be able to refinance through the RIC and how is that going to actually happen?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, yes is the short answer.
LITTLEPROUD: Yes. And obviously they make representation, the Regional Investment Corporation. We have. I have to say that the commercial banks have been very proactive and supportive of the agricultural sector since this drought has taken place. We have constant meetings, both the Treasurer and I, with the banks and the Regional Investment Corporation there. So they work collaboratively. But in essence, anyone can refinance up to two million dollars of their facilities from a commercial bank to the Regional Investment Corporation. And I reiterate, those that have loans with the Regional Investment Corporation now under a drought regime can now change their structures to mirror this as well. It's important that people who are on current RIC loans make contact with the RIC and they get on this new regime.
PRIME MINISTER: So we've got just over $1.2 billion that has been provisioned for these actual loans. So that's $1.2 billion we're announcing on the loan side and there's just over $700 million, which is the direct budget initiative. So that's just shy of $2 billion in new measures we're announcing today.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Water scheme I think you mentioned, 4000 to 6000 farmers might be able to access the water. Just how broadly will the water go? And you have an estimate as to how much water each farmer, for example, may be able to get?
THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Look, we've estimated that off ABS data around the number of farmers there and their production systems. Obviously, we're trying to work through for what would be a minimum amount at this stage we got to a point of around 25 megalitres we think that that would be a feasible amount for someone to be able to use productively and produce enough fodder. So those types of arrangements are being finalised now to ensure that there is equity and obviously those that have accessed larger allocations during the year and the number of around more than 500 megalitres may be precluded from this. So to make sure that smaller farmers can get access to this and particularly dairy farmers who need pasture, we expect that there'll be some take up before Christmas and they'll want to deliver some pasture for the summer. But there'll be a considerable amount they'll want to have preplanning for March, April and then obviously moving in. And that's why we've acted as swiftly as we can. And that's why it did take leadership from South Australia to get this done now, because we understand the timeliness of this for agricultural production systems.
JOURNALIST: When will that water be available and how will the allocation be regulated to ensure it's used to grow fodder?
THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well, it's non-transferable. So if you're provided one of these allocations after we get an expressions of interest and expressions of interest will determine the scaling up or down of how much per megalitres. But we think the baseline is around 25 megalitres effectively what will happen then is that if you provided one of these allocations, you will not be able to transfer it. You cannot trade it. You must go and produce something with it. That is the reality, we want to produce fodder and we want to produce pasture for those producers because this is a measure. While there is some good fodder coming into the southern part of the country at the moment, what we’ve got to understand is if it stays dry, we need to be thinking about six months in advance. And this is that this is the thinking of the government. We're not just thinking about the here and now. We're thinking 6, 12 [months] and even 5, 10 years ahead with our Future Fund. So this is a measure to make sure that we're protecting if we get into winter and it stays dry, that we're ahead of the game and we're putting pressure on fodder prices so they don't get out of hand.
PRIME MINISTER: So it's at a deep discount to market too, it's not being made available at market prices, it will be at a deep discount to market and that'll be worked through as part of the process. But we've got some basic estimates of that.
JOURNALIST: The cotton and rice planting window still open, could you use that water for cotton and rice?
PRIME MINISTER: it’s for fodder. And pasture.
JOURNALIST: Will it be [inaudible] and regulated?
THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: There are mechanisms being devised as we speak around making sure that there is protection of that to make sure that the integrity of what this is, the intent of this is to provide is there. And we're working through with those water providers to ensure that. But there is cooperation from everybody, state, state bodies as well as those are the delivery mechanisms.
JOURNALIST: You’re saying 100 gig all up at a cost of $98 million, you get 40 gigs from South Australian government,
PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s 100 gigs that we'll get from South Australia.
JOURNALIST: And that's at a cost of $98 million?
PRIME MINISTER: That's actually at $88 [million], There's $10 million on top of that we're putting into the South Australian government for their drought fund.
JOURNALIST: And so will you allocate any water that you already have from anywhere else. So from the environment or,
PRIME MINISTER: No, none of that is being touched.
JOURNALIST: Can you provide any guarantee that South Australian taxpayers won't pay higher costs for their water bills?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a net zero impact in South Australia because this is new water. They have all the existing allocations that they have now. And so that doesn't impact on any of the supply in South Australia, any of the cost of producing the additional water out of the desal plant is being met by the Commonwealth. And there is a review that will take place in April. And if it is of the view of the South Australian state government, that conditions have deteriorated there then the balance of the 60 gigs will be addressed by the Commonwealth.
JOURNALIST: Are you aware of the feasibility report around the desalination plant, will be made public?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s a matter for the state government.
THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: That’s a matter for the South Australian government, we‘ve given them some money as part of the,
PRIME MINISTER: We’ll just help fund it. We didn't build it.
JOURNALIST: On exit packages, the NFF had called for that for Farmers that want to leave the land. Why isn't that something you considered? And is that something that you're open to in the future?
THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: We are here to keep farmers on their properties. The data doesn’t, if you'd like me to finish, the data doesn't support it. In fact, there has been an increase in farmer’s equity considerably over the last five years because of an increase in farm valuations. In fact, last year, farm valuations on a medium price per hectare has gone up 10.7 per cent. So that gives farmers the ability to work with their finances and the Regional Investment Corporation to get through this drought. Those who want to have a go to go, we're going be there with them. So there is no need for us to enter into exit arrangements. We intend to hold the course and support those that want to be there and have a go.
PRIME MINISTER: And just to add to that, I mean, the farm prices at the moment. There's one thing in this drought that is helpful. It is that land prices have stayed up. I mean, if we're in a situation where they had plummeted and you're dealing with people who make a decision to leave the land, then obviously that would compound that problem even further. But the level of equity that's currently in these properties is at a very relatively high level. And as David has said, it has built the value every year for the last five years. So that actually provides an opportunity in these arrangements for the leverage that can be available to farmers to take on what we're talking about today. But also in the event if they make their own decisions about what they want to do with their properties, their properties are valued at strong levels at present and that actually assist them if that's the decision they want to take. But where those sorts of things have been applied in the past, that has been when you've been going through industry restructuring arrangements and where there has been a decision to facilitate people off the land. We're not seeking to facilitate people off the land. We're trying to assist them to stay on. And those who know that they have a future in the sector, then these measures will greatly assist them.
JOURNALIST: What would you like to see the states do to support this? Is there any indication they might waive payroll tax and rates?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm glad you asked, because when we've gone round and spoken to people and my colleagues have and Michael as well, the two things that have come up most commonly for the states to do has been payroll tax holidays, and rate relief. Now we're putting a million dollars into every council. That's not to provide rate relief. That's actually to build things and keep people in jobs. It's a stimulus. And so that is a matter that has been raised quite consistently in Victoria and New South Wales and Queensland and South Australia as well. So that is a matter entirely for the states. After the drought summit last year, we concluded a new drought agreement which made it very clear that fodder and freight subsidies were also the responsibility of state governments, not the Commonwealth government. Now as you can see, we've, I think, put forward a very innovative way of addressing the fodder issue by increasing the supply of fodder, using the powers and the relationship we have with South Australia. New South Wales has the gold standard presently when it comes to fodder and freight subsidies. Queensland is a long way behind. Victoria is even further behind. Now, whether they want to support fodder and freight subsidies is a matter for them. Ultimately, the National Farmers Federation haven't recommended it I should note. But New South Wales, I think, has really set the mark, not just on that, but particularly, with Michael and I, when we were able to conclude with them those water projects and Dungowan and Wyangala, I mean, they're also clearing the way for dam projects as well.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] New South Wales and Victoria, did you ask them to contribute as well?
PRIME MINISTER: There wasn't the need, with the arrangement we had with South Australia. The arrangement with South Australia is quite unique because of the desal plant and that provides an option which doesn't require us to go to those states. But with all of these measures, they're not set and forget, you know, if it's, we're here in April next year, June next year, September next year, drought continues. You can expect us to stand at this podium and be announcing further measures, two years from now when those interest-free periods run run up. Our hope is they'll be in pastures and they'll be harvesting. And the purpose of those loans would have put them in the position where they'll be then be getting back up on their feet. But if we find ourselves in a different situation than as a government we will continue to do what we're doing. You don't just release a drought strategy a year ago and then don't do anything else. You keep doing it every day.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] the $3,000 assistance for households out, you announced.
PRIME MINISTER: That's already happening.
JOURNALIST: You announced it in September, but the paperwork is only just gone to the community organisations this week. When would you anticipate it actually being able to be disbursed?
THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: It'll be delivered on the 22nd of November. The reason for the delay is that after the first tranche, the providers, the charities indicated that there was some concern around gaming of the system. Sadly, during drought, the best of Australians come out. But so too, sometimes is the worst of Australians. They indicated that there were some anomalies in how the administration of these moneys were being delivered. And so there were some recommendations by the department that we should tighten that to make sure those that deserve that $3,000 dollars get it. Now I get that it's taken some time, but it's important that we are using Australian taxpayers money and we need to get this right and we're going to get it right. And that's why it’s being done as quickly as we possibly can to make sure that there is integrity in the system and those that deserve it, get it.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] Days’ asked for an annual report on the drought to parliament, is that going to happen?
PRIME MINISTER: We'll be constantly reporting on what's happening on the drought. I can assure you of that. And that's what we're doing here.
JOURNALIST: But an official annual report to Parliament?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll take that under consideration. But what matters is what we do. And I mean our Cabinet discusses the matters of drought on a very regular basis. I meant what I said over a year ago when I became Prime Minister. This has been our constant and priority focus and the job is a long way from done.
JOURNALIST: If you can get Federation to work and agree to the water deal, why can't you get the states to come together with the Commonwealth to sort out a drought policy so you can avoid all of these ad hoc announcements, which is what industry's been calling for?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Minister will be pulling together the state ministers again and all the states and territories I thought played a very constructive role in last year's drought summit. And we were able to agree a new drought agreement just shortly after that, that drought summit. The NFF has sought to get some consistency in the various triggers and measures that are applied in different states and territories. In my discussions with the states and territories, they are very keen to retain their own bespoke way of managing those issues. And it is true that each state and territory will have different needs and different other support systems that work through their own government arrangements. So they're keen to maintain complete autonomy over their own arrangements, which is their entitlement. That's what the Constitution says. But, you know, we will continue to pull them together and seek to facilitate their coordination wherever we can.
JOURNALIST: A second council is considering forgoing the $1 million in drought assistance. Do you need to tighten the formula at all as to how you deem who is eligible? And are you satisfied the projects that are being conducted, including toilet blocks in cemeteries, are suitable for the $1 million dollars?
THE HON. DAVID LITTLEPROUD MP, MINISTER FOR WATER RESOURCES, DROUGHT, RURAL FINANCE, NATURAL DISASTER AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well, that's why, as I articulated earlier, we are contacting each and every one of those eligible councils that have been paid previously to make sure their circumstances has not changed. The reality is, the current criteria is that you must have over 17 per cent of your employment in agriculture, and there's a rainfall deficiency over 24 months with 12 months of that being below average. We're making sure that none of those circumstances change because that data is cut every quarter. Now we have had councils who have come forward and say they no longer need it. So we'll make sure the steps are there. Then I will make sure that I will look at this, the criteria closely to ensure that it is fit for purpose and that no one is left behind. And those that don't need to be there aren't. Let me say with respect to the programs of a toilet in a cemetery block. Yes. And you know why? Because you know who built that? A local tradie, you know where he got his goods from? A local hardware store. That's new money into that economy. I'm sorry. With all due respect, you may want to belittle something like a toilet block, but to those people, to those economies, that is new money that keeps that tradie going, keeps his apprentice going. And to not understand the intricacies and the fine balance of these local economies shows some level of ignorance.
PRIME MINISTER: Chris, the very patient Mr Uhlmann,
JOURNALIST: Yeah, while you’ve been talking about drought relief, the Labor Party has been releasing a review on itself. Do you have any idea why it lost the election?
PRIME MINISTER: The Australian people know the answer to that question and they're still not listening to them the Labor Party. I mean, it's 6 months after the election. Labor's still talking about themselves. We are focussed on what the Australians elected us to do, and that is whether it's acting on drought, whether it's dealing with the big challenges we've got in aged care, delivering the tax relief we said we do. I mean, today's trade figures are very encouraging. And I've just returned from the latest East Asia Summit where the RCEP agreement and we were able to make great progress on that, those trade agreements, incredibly important to farming communities as well, one of the reasons we are seeing that support for farm prices is that the expanded opportunities there is now for our agricultural sector because of those arrangements. The infrastructure program, which the Deputy Prime Minister leads is rolling out. That's what we're focussed on. Labour is focussed on themselves. They just simply cannot get past themselves. Thanks very much. Can I thank my colleagues also for the great work they've done in pulling this package together. And again, I very much want to thank Premier Marshall for the spirit in which he's engaged with us on this. He showed tremendous leadership, but he's also ensured, I can guarantee you that he's looked after the people of South Australia in the process as well. Thank you very much.