Australia is experiencing one of the worst droughts on record. Australian farmers are incredibly resilient, but many farming families and communities are doing it tough.
The Federal Government's drought package is now at $1.8 billion. Just as the drought evolves so must our policies, and we'll continue to listen to the farming community, and evaluate the best options for support. See below for some FAQs on the Government's Drought Assistance.
WATCH BELOW for the latest drought announcement's, direct from the PM:
What is the Farm Household Allowance?
The FHA is a payment for farming families in financial hardship. It is an income support allowance, which can help families with money for bills, school fees, groceries etc. It is to help keep body and soul together, and ease some of the pressures of the cost of living.
The Farm Household Allowance is a fortnightly payment of $985.60 which eligible families are already receiving. In June we extended the FHA from three years to four. In addition, families receive a concessional health care card, access to the pharmaceutical and telephone allowances and many can receive the remote area allowance.
As part of the announcements made on Sunday the 19th, The Government will also simplify the application form for Farm Household Allowance.
We have bolstered our processing staffing levels to ensure farmers will be supported when applying for Farm Household Assistance. There will be increased phone access capacity allowing farmers to complete a claim over the phone, and we will simplify the process for farmers who are not able to claim online. Fewer documents will be required to make a claim. For example, where possible the balance sheet or tax return for a farm business will be used to source information.
$12,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money for farmers that are struggling.
The biggest recommendation given to us during our drought tour in June was the need for cash income to cover bills and put food on the table. Recently we announced an additional $190 million in immediate relief measures to help farmers in the most constructive way possible.
The Farm Household Allowance (FHA) is income support to help families with bills, school fees, and putting food on the table. The Farm Household Allowance is a fortnightly payment of $985.60 which eligible families are already receiving. This new announcement of an additional $12,000 for families supplements the existing FHA. It is not designed to be a fodder subsidy. The State Governments are responsible for fodder and freight fodder subsidies.
Why are the payments split?
The additional payments are split and staggered to help the supplementary funds last over the year.
How do you know if you're eligible for the Farm Household Allowance?
We would encourage people not to self-assess. Please call 1800 686 175 to find out if you're eligible for the Farm Household Allowance, or check here.
What are we doing to drought-proof our country?
We are putting measures in place that that target drought resilience and recovery post-drought, including:
Primary producers can immediately deduct (rather than depreciate over three years) the cost of fodder storage assets, such as silos and hay sheds used to store grain and other animal feed storage, making it easier for farmers to invest in and stockpile fodder. Farmers will be better placed to invest in fodder storage as part of the instant depreciation initiative. This measure will be available for fodder storage assets first used or installed ready for use from today, and complements the $20,000 instant asset write-off already available for small businesses. Legislative changes will be made to give effect to this measure.
An additional $23.7 million will be provided to improve drought resilience by extending the Great Artesian Basin bore capping programme that plugs abandoned bores and replaces free-running channels with new water-efficient piping.
There will be a special drought round under the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund that will provide up to $72 million for water infrastructure in drought-affected areas.
An additional $2.7 million will be provided to allow the Bureau of Meteorology to develop new finer scale regional weather and climate guides, helping farmers make decisions about crop planting and stocking levels by better understanding their local climate risks.
What will the National Drought Coordinator do?
Major General Stephen Day, DSC, AM has been appointed as the National Drought Cooordinator. He will engage across all levels of government, the private sector, philanthropic organisations,a nd with communities and farmers. He will work with NSW and QLD Drought Commissioners, the Farm Liaison Officer appointed by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, and relevant agencies in other states.
Why did it take so long to offer drought relief?
The Prime Minister acted quickly following the his drought tour in June by extending the period of the FHA from 3 to 4 years and we are continuing to act with the latest measures. We have to be responsible with taxpayers' money and design drought relief measures carefully so that they work and don’t waste money.
How are you working with State Governments to help the farmers?
Under the National Agreement between states and federal government (which was recently extended until the end of the year), the Federal Government provides support for families, and the State Governments provide fodder and freight subsidies. There are freight subsidies in Queensland, and NSW has reintroduced them again.
How can we help?
Individuals and businesses can help by donating money to responsible recognised drought and rural charities .
What about other businesses in rural areas? What are you doing for businesses in town that are affected by the drought?
Local towns and communities are also affected by drought conditions. When we help farmers stay in business with support from the FHA and through concessional drought loans, we are helping them to continue spending in local businesses in rural and regional communities.
The Drought Communities Programme will be expanded and receive an additional $75 million to help support an initial 60 councils in drought-stricken areas, funding local community infrastructure and other projects, such as emergency water supply. This measure recognises that support is also needed for the communities and businesses that back our farmers.
The expansion of the Drought Communities Programme will enable $1 million to be provided to 60 councils initially, with further support available if needed. The programme guidelines will be broadened giving councils flexibility to choose projects that have the biggest impact. These can include employing local contractors to undertake repairs and maintenance, upgrading or building new community facilities, undertaking drought-relief activities and carting potable water into communities for drinking and bathing.
What is being done for the mental health of farmers and their families?
The financial stresses associated with droughts have a devastating impact on the mental and emotional wellbeing of farmers, their children, and the entire community. We are putting $11.4 million directly into mental health support in drought areas through:
an Empowering Communities program that allows local communities to tailor local mental health responses to their needs. Eligible communities can apply for funds up to $1 million for community-led initiatives that improve mental health and community resilience,
removing the face-to-face consultation requirements for farmers accessing Medicare’s mental health Telehealth services. This recognises the long distances and cost of travel in money and time for rural people.
and a youth mental health awareness raising initiative in drought-affected communities. Australia has world leading digital health solutions specifically tailored to young people - including helplines, websites, on-line forums and apps. Funding will be provided to ReachOUT to raise awareness of these services in drought affected communities.
The Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) can also help relieve anxiety with free financial counselling and farm and business planning advice.
Why are we sending aid overseas when it is needed in our own backyard?
Foreign aid is in our national interest because we benefit from trade and security cooperation and a secure region, means a prosperous Australia. For example, Indonesia is an important neighbour and friend to Australia. We invested $316 million in aid to our Indonesian neighbour last year, and our principal agricultural exports (wheat, live cattle, raw cotton, sugar etc) to Indonesia were over $3 billion. The aid official budget is only 0.8% of the total Federal Government Budget.
Why don’t we use the defence force?
Commonwealth assistance may be requested by a State or Territory Government at any time, either for specialist services that are otherwise not available, or in times of crisis or disaster. Defence liaison officers have consulted with relevant State Governments this week, including NSW, to offer assistance should they require it. No requests have been made to the Commonwealth for emergency support. State authorities are directly managing the drought responses.
What else is the Government doing?
Drought is sadly a recurring feature in Australia and for more than two decades now the Commonwealth and State/Territory governments’ policy approach has been towards preparedness and resilience. Our farmers are resilient, but there are times where they need a helping hand.
$386 million worth of drought measures were in place before the $190 million announced on the 5th August. Some of these include:
Farm Household Allowance:
The FHA was launched in July 2014. More than $230 million has been invested by the Federal Government to help almost 8,000 farmers. From 1 August, we extended the availability of the FHA from 3 years to 4 years. Remember - the FHA is income support to help farmers and their families when there is none coming in.
Rural Financial Counselling Service:
The drought places extraordinary pressure on farmers in terms of decision-making - whether to destock or hold on, whether to buy feed or wait, and so on. The RFCS provides some 130 counsellors who help around 4500 people a year with business and commercial counselling and insights. $70 million has been invested by the Federal Coalition Government from April 2016 to June 2020, and includes a recent $20.4 million extension.
Aussie Helpers received an additional $1 million recently during the PM's June drought tour for an innovative counselling service (accessed via SMS) for drought areas. The service offers private, professional mental health advice accessible from anywhere at any time.
$1 million in funding was also announced during the June drought tour for Rural and Remote Mental Health’s programs, which provide tailored support for the agricultural and mining sectors and are backed up by a strong online presence and telephone support available 24-7.
In the 2018-19 Budget as part of our additional $338.1 million investment in mental health we provided:
$20.4 million to the Royal Flying Doctor Service for a mental health outreach service; and
$33.8 million to Lifeline Australia to support its counselling services - which provide support and advice to people all over Australia.
Pests and weeds:
Some $25.8 million over four years from 2015–16 to help manage pest animals and weeds in drought-affected areas. This is in addition to the $50 million announced as part of the Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper to support established pests and weeds nationally.
An additional $15 million has been committed to make sure wild dogs and pests don't decimate lambing in drought-affected parts of NSW and Queensland, where lambing rates have increased from 30 percent to 80 percent after dog fences were installed.
Farm Liaison Officer:
Minister Littleproud recently announced this position to aid farmers in Queensland and NSW. It is estimated that there are up to 19,000 farmers who are eligible for the FHA, who have not yet applied. Farm Liaison Officers will help those in rural areas understand what support is available.
The Coalition doubled the amount farmers could set aside from their taxable income and hold in Farm Management Deposits to $800,000 and changed the law to allow them to be used as offsets against a farmer's mortgage. As at June there is now a record $6.62 billion sitting in more than 55,000 FMD accounts across Australia. After relentless pressure from Government ministers last month, NAB, CBA and Rabobank have now agreed to offer farmers a product which allows them to use their FMD as an offset against their loan, potentially saving farmers millions.
Accelerated depreciation for new water infrastructure, fodder infrastructure and fencing to help farmers prepare for drought, assist with cash flow and encourage on-farm investment. Drought-affected taxpayers who need support with tax debts can ring the ATO on 131 142.
Regional Investment Corporation (RIC):
The RIC will deliver nationally-consistent loans including for farmers in drought. From this month up to $2 billion is available for the delivery of farm business concessional loans an $2 billion for water infrastructure loans. (Note, these are not part of the $386m and $576m totals as these are loans)
Prior to the commencement of the RIC, more than $852 million in concessional loans have been approved to 1,559 farm businesses since the Coalition came to office in 2013.