Australia

Drought package: Farmers welcome bonus money but face ongoing anguish

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Farmers have welcomed a cash injection for drought relief, but face ongoing anguish with no forecast of rain in the imminent future.

The National Farmers' Federation welcomed the boost in national government funding as farmers wait for rain to break one of the nation's worst dry spells in 100 years.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the federal government's $190 million relief package on Sunday at a farm in central NSW.

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National Farmers' Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the aid is much needed. 

"They'll (farmers) be welcoming it," Mr Mahar told SBS News. 

"It will provide some immediate support and will really help with cash flow through the business if people are looking to feed stock or maintain their own family requirements."

He described some farmers' situations as 'tragic' as farmer’s battle dry conditions across eastern and southern Australia.

Malcolm Turnbull, farmer Phillip Miles, his wife Ashley
Autumn was the fourth-warmest on record, with rainfall totals below average for most of Australia. (AAP)
AAP

"Going forward, obviously, we're in for some pretty challenging times for a large proportion of farms in New South Wales and Queensland, parts of Victoria and also South Australia," he said.

Labor has welcomed the package but called on the government to introduce plans to tackle climate change's impact on drought.

Opposition Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon said if the government is "serious" about responding to drought, it has to "recognise the impact of climate change".

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon talks to the media during a press conference on farmers and drought at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz) NO ARCHIVING
Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon talks to the media during a press conference on farmers and drought at Parliament House in Canberra.(AAP)
AAP

"We must except the climate will continue to become challenging, if not more challenging and the best thing a government can do is help farmers embrace the best farming practices beyond the farm gate," Mr Fitzgibbon told reporters on Sunday.

Last month was the driest July nationally since 2002, with about about 99 per cent of NSW and more than 58 per cent of Queensland now officially in drought.

On top of the dry conditions, there is a 50 per cent chance of an El Niño weather event developing this Spring, which is linked with below average rainfall in Australia’s south-east.

Up to $12,000 per household in extra aid

The additional emergency relief payments will allow couples to get up to $12,000, while singles will be able to access up to $7200 as part of the Farm Household Allowance.

Eligible farmers will receive the first payment on September 1, with another round of funding to flow on March 1 next year.

The funding, which includes a boost for mental health services, takes the federal government’s drought response to $576 million.

The announcement also includes $11.4 million in funding for other initiatives supporting the mental wellbeing of farming families and their communities.

Under the changes, instead of three out of 10 Medicare-supported psychological consultations needing to be in person, all of them will now be able to be held over the phone or through Skype.

But with no rain it sight, Mr Mahar questioned whether the drought relief measures will deliver meaningful change.

“Is it enough? Well it's really certainly a welcome step in the right direction and we’ll just have to keep monitoring how severe the impacts are."

Mr Turnbull defended the figure, promising to monitor the situation given grave forecasts of continued drought.

"There's no set and forget here," Mr Turnbull said.

Readers seeking mental health support can contact:

Lifeline 13 11 14

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

Farmer Assitance Hotline 132 316

How can I help?

Farmers seeking drought assistance can contact these organisations:

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