The Labor Party has welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement of the coalition’s drought assistance package but said the government had failed to progress the drought reform agenda.
The federal government’s $190 million package includes an extension of the Farm Household Allowance (FHA) of up to $12,000 in two lump sum payments and a relaxing of FHA assets tests to allow more farmers access to the assistance.
Shadow Minister for rural and regional Australia Joel Fitzgibbon said Labor has been saying for months they support additional and meaningful support for suffering farming families.
“We’ve also been saying for four years that the Farm Household Allowance is failing farmers,” he said.
“As recently as a month ago the government was saying it’s fine. Then a little more than a week ago they said they would review it, but it would take time. Now they are suddenly and dramatically changing it. The government needs to ensure that those seeking assistance can contact and access Centrelink, which has been made even more difficult since the Turnbull Government cut almost 2,500 Centrelink jobs over the past two years.”
Dubbo Labor spokesman Stephen Lawrence said the policy announcement is important but that there are people who might not take advantage of the assistance on offer.
“It is important to be mindful that there are people out there that might not put their hand out,” he said. “Whether it’s social security, mental health or specific drought assistance all members of the community need to inquire quietly and appropriately as to whether people are aware of these offers of assistance to make sure that everyone who is eligible will access these services.”
Mr Lawrence said the government must put the drought reform agenda back on track.
“We need to follow the science and build farm sustainability and resilience in a range of ways including helping farmers embrace new technology and best-practice farming methods,” he said.
“Last week Labor announced a plan to use the agriculture-based research and development corporations to build on best-practice farming methods and to ensure they are embraced at the farm level.”