Australia

'Taking action': PM flies to Queensland to roll out $100 million drought fund

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Prime minister Scott Morrison has travelled to Queensland to announce nearly $100 million in drought support funding.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rolled out almost $100 million in drought funding in Queensland, saying more cash and less red tape is needed.

Fresh from his historic trip to the United States, Mr Morrison flew straight to Dalby, Queensland, to make the announcement.

Prime Minister announced a new support package of nearly $100 million to drought-hit communities.
Prime Minister announced a new support package of nearly $100 million to drought-hit communities.
AAP

Speaking to reporters from a farm in the central Queensland region, Mr Morrison vowed the government would not forget about those communities struggling with the drought. 

"It is not set and forget our drought response, it is ongoing. We are listening very carefully," he said.

"That's why we're here today, that's why my feet barely touched the ground after getting back from New York yesterday and straight back up here."

The drought package includes a $51.5 million commitment to overhaul the Farm Household Allowance, an income stream to help eligible farmers, which is paid at the Newstart rate. 

The eligibility criteria of the assistance is being simplified, with the government estimating less than 7000 of the 24,000 eligible households are currently accessing the payment.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison travelled to Dalby only  a day after returning from his trip to New York.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison travelled to Dalby only a day after returning from his trip to New York.
AAP

Mr Morrison encouraged those farmers in need to not be shy about seeking out help.

"There are many reasons why often people in rural communities and farmers won't reach out and sometimes they feel like they shouldn't," he said, 

"My message to them is they should."

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said the assistance is a focal point of the government's drought response.

"This is our government's number one program to get money onto the tables, into the pockets and bank accounts, of our farming families doing it tough," Senator McKenzie said.

Alongside this thirteen Queensland councils are being allocated $1 million each as part of the government's drought support package for local projects.

Among those being helped is the Western Downs Regional Council where Mr Morrison travelled too.

Mayor of the council Paul McVeigh welcomed the support saying the community has come on hard times. 

"Our community is struggling. It is a step [and] if it gets worse, we'll have to do another step," he said.

Prime Minister Morrison walks through the farm in Dalby, Queensland.
Prime Minister Morrison walks through the farm in Dalby, Queensland.
AAP

Mr Morrison said the government continues to monitor regions requiring support, saying the program would include some 123 councils.

"The government regularly makes these decisions and we do it on the basis of listening to what's happening with farming communities around the country." 

The drought-busting package also includes $33 million to restart the mothballed Drought Community Support Initiative, giving money to charity to then pass onto farmers.

Up to $3,000 will be available to eligible country households under the initiative.

Much of rural NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania is suffering under the effects of drought, including mass stock losses and low crop yields.

Farmers have previously called on the federal government to implement a federal drought policy to assist them to weather the storm. 

But opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government's $100 million pledge was "too little too late".

"It's not like the drought has just happened, it has been here for years," he said.

"We welcome any assistance for our farming community, They're doing it tough and it's about time the government recognise that and act." 

Prime Minister Morrison kneels in the field of the Dalby farm.
Prime Minister Morrison kneels in the field of the Dalby farm.
AAP

The announcement comes as Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce cops flak for his work as drought envoy.

But Prime Minster Scott Morrison spoke out in defence of his appointment in response to questions from reporters. 

“Barnaby when I appointed him to this role provided constant reports -  I didn’t ask him to write a book, I asked him to give us some advice on what he was hearing from farmers and that’s what he did," he said. 

"That was his job – it wasn’t to be an author and publisher – it was actually to give us candid feedback on drought affected communities." 

Mr Joyce never produced a final report, opting instead to make his correspondenece through letters, text messages and meetings with the prime minister. 

Prime Minister Morrison appointed Mr Joyce the drought envoy days after becoming prime minister.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) chats to farmer David Gooding on his drought-affected property.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) chats to farmer David Gooding on his drought-affected property.
AAP

The member for New England has angrily rejected suggestions he failed to deliver, claiming he compiled multiple reports and made hundreds of representations on behalf of farmers.

"I actually sent heaps of reports to the prime minister," Mr Joyce told the Seven Network on Monday.

Off the back of the Nationals MP’s fact-finding exhibition, federal cabinet signed off on a $7 billion plan to respond to the drought.

Drought Minister David Littleproud told reporters communities would be supported through the drought.

"We have never forgotten about this drought and we continue to be agile and we continue to consult and listen," he said.  

"It will rain and when it rains we'll make a lot of money."

"But we have got a lot of families to get through this drought." 

With AAP

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