UPPER Hunter MP Michael Johnsen today welcomed news the NSW Government’s support for farmers and their families facing drought had been boosted by $284 million in the NSW Budget 2018, bringing the drought relief package to well over half a billion dollars.
Mr Johnsen said the NSW Government knew the dry conditions were hitting our farmers hard, especially in the Upper Hunter, where the drought started.
He added all politicians wanted to reassure communities that they are doing everything they can to make sure the right help is available at the right time.
“To date, the Farm Innovation Fund has delivered $220 million to more than 1300 farmers to help build on-farm infrastructure, and prepare for and battle drought,” Mr Johnsen said.
“I think it is important to note, that the vast majority of feedback that myself and my parliamentary colleagues get from farmers is that they don’t necessarily want a ‘hand-out’ but rather assistance from the state government at this time.
“Some of these relief measures emerged from recent talks in Scone between myself, the Deputy Premier and local famers from the Upper Hunter Shire.
“Our farmers are continuing to tell us that these loans are one of the best measures available, which is why we have decided to double the funding available, taking the fund’s total value to $500 million.”
Mr Johnsen said the NSW Government would also expand the criteria of the fund to allow for loans to be expanded from $20,000 to a $50,000 seven-year interest free loan to allow producers to bring in fodder and grain to sustain stock on hand, as well as install key water infrastructure.
“This fund will be extended to enable producers to collect and store genetics of their herd or flock, which will allow for a much quicker recovery when good times return,” he explained.
The budget will also include more than $4 million to support communities facing natural disaster and drought including:
· Support for the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, including continued funding for 13 statewide co-ordinators to link rural people to the help they need; and
· Additional counselling support through funding for the National Association for Loss and Grief, a Dubbo-based NGO.
“We are determined to stand side-by-side with our farmers is why we are providing both funding for drought resilience through our Farm Innovation Fund and strong emotional health and well-being support to get people through this tough time,” Mr Johnsen said.
In addition, he said more than $25 million had been allocated to construct and operate three new Doppler radar weather stations in the Central West and Far West – giving farmers more accurate weather forecasting.
“These new radars will deliver fast, accurate and live weather updates to help our farmers make timely business decisions about when to sow, harvest crops or move stock, boosting productivity and saving money,” Mr Johnsen explained.
“The drought package would also include a new kangaroo management strategy, which will seek to reduce kangaroo numbers in drought-hit areas.
“Under the strategy, we are removing the need for physical tags and the ‘shoot and let lie’ conditions, expanding the commercial harvest zone in South East NSW, enabling more shooters to operate under each licence, and helping to connect landholders to commercial harvesters.
“The new strategy will make it easier for landholders to meet the harvest quotas set by the commonwealth.
“In 2017, NSW met less than 20 per cent of the quota, which was set to maintain the long-term kangaroo population.
“We know the forecast is poor so we will continue to re-assess measures, and as a member of this government I will continue to talk to our Upper Hunter electorate communities every step of the way.
“We are committed to aiding our local farmers and families at this time, and this boosted NSW Drought Management Strategy will assist our farmers and rural communities to get through the current dry spell and importantly be better prepared for the next inevitable drought.”