Upper Hunter farmers say federal government drought assistance is ‘recognition’ of problem

A new federal government drought assistance package has been welcomed by some Upper Hunter farmers struggling through dry conditions, though questions remain as to the extent the measures will ultimately help.

The reaction came on Monday as much-needed showers hit parts of the region.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Sunday a $190 million suite of measures including relief payments up to $12,000 per couple and $7200 for a single person, with payments set to start next month.

The assets test used to determine who gets the allowance has almost doubled from $2.6 million to $5 million.

It comes after the NSW government last week announced a package of measures, including 50 per cent freight subsidies for animals, feed and water up to $20,000 per property.

Merriwa farmer Ron Campbell said the federal relief package was “welcome news”.

Struggling: Bill and Nicole Hannah say there will be no animals left on their property near Gundy if the drought doesn't break before Christmas. Picture: Marina Neil

Struggling: Bill and Nicole Hannah say there will be no animals left on their property near Gundy if the drought doesn't break before Christmas. Picture: Marina Neil

But he questioned the need for asset tests “because increased values of land may prevent some from accessing payments”.

“Land values are not controlled by farmers,” he said.

Gundy cattle farmer James Archibald said news of funding was “most welcome” but cautioned the “devil is in the detail”.

“[The package is] a recognition that the federal government is aware of how tough it is at the moment,” he said.

“If it can be administered locally and is a bit simpler to get than previous grants, that would help a lot.”

Nicole Hannah, who lives on a small cattle farm about 40km out of Scone with her husband Bill, said raising the threshold in the asset test was a good move.

“Farms are expensive but you can’t eat dirt,” she said.

“The $12,000 will help with fodder but the price of hay is so high at the moment that it won’t go far. Even so, every bit helps.”

Blandford farmer Craig Murphy said the package would help people who were “already in a dire situation”.

Dry: Cattle farmer James Archibald walks along the bed of the Isis River, which used to run through his property - when it last ran in March, 2017. Picture: Marina Neil

Dry: Cattle farmer James Archibald walks along the bed of the Isis River, which used to run through his property - when it last ran in March, 2017. Picture: Marina Neil

“It’s no help to those who cannot [access it], some have a partner or wife that works off farm, this excludes them.”

Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who is Labor’s federal agriculture spokesperson, said more should have been done sooner.

“Only last month the government was still saying that the drought policy they had in place was sufficiently comprehensive, it is enough,” he said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told ABC radio on Monday morning the cash supplements “have been very well received”.

“Our farmers are not helpless. They are courageous, they are innovative, they are enterprising and they understand the drought is part of the Australian climate,” he said.

Meanwhile, farmers recorded as much 14.5mm of rain at Blandford, south of Murrurundi, 9mm at Gundy, north of Scone and 5mm at Merriwa.

“It’s great for raising our spirits but we need follow-up rain for it to be effective,” Mrs Hannah said.

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