Monday, 4 June 2018

Turnbull Plans Drought Tour, Excludes Hunter Region

BY LAUREN FREEMANTLE

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will visit drought-affected properties across NSW and Queensland this week, and Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon is questioning why he's not coming to our region.

The PM will talk with farmers in areas like Dubbo and Boulia on a three-day tour to gain suggestions for future drought policy, but Joel Fitzgibbon believes the government is already failing to provide relief to those farmers who need it.

In 2013, a new COAG agreement was struck which outlined five objectives:

1. Assist farmers to adapt and prepare for climate variability
2. Encourage self-reliant farming approaches to manage business risks
3. Ensure access to support payments which are specific to farmers
4. Ensure access to social support services
5. Provide a framework for jurisdictions' responses throughout drought

As part of the deal, the progress of these plans was to be tracked with correspondence to a body called the Standing Committee on Primary Industries.

However, four months later that Committee was disbanded and Joel Fitzgibbon believes this has contributed to the demise of our drought assistance measures.

It comes as some farmers who've been on government assistance benefits with a maximum period of 3 years have their scheme draw to a close.

It's understood the Prime Minister was in Scone over the weekend to visit three of his own properties, and Joel Fitzgibbon wonders why he wouldn't stop in for a chat with Hunter landholders.

"He has to stop overlooking the Hunter region and listen to farmers on the ground," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

"[PM Turnbull] says he's doing that this week but I fear it's really just an opportunity to get his face on our TV screens because over the last five years he's totally abandoned drought policy."

Federal Labor says it's not the first time the Hunter has been overlooked, citing the disappointing May budget.

"The Hunter was overlooked in Malcolm Turnbull's budget and now we're missing out on his drought tour whether you're producing vegetables near Maitland, beef in the Upper Hunter or dairy in Gloucester you're affected by drought - and we should be in his itinerary."

Digging for clues: Malcolm Turnbull will ask farmers in areas affected by 20 years of drought what they want to gain most from government help. Image: Financial Review. 

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