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(Australian Associated Press)
The federal government is being urged to provide cash packages for drought-stricken farmers wanting to leave the land.
Despite not offering as much, Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists there is “enormous overlap” between what farmers want and what his government is putting on the table.
The National Farmers’ Federation has written to Mr Morrison asking for six measures to tackle the drought sweeping swathes of regional Australia.
NFF president Fiona Simson believes exit packages could be one tool to help stem growing desperation on some rural properties.
“Sometimes people feel like they’re running out of options and that’s when bad things happen,” she told AAP in Canberra on Wednesday.
“Sometimes people feel they’re looking down a never-ending tunnel at the moment because we don’t know when the drought is going to end.”
She said exit grants could help people who “feel like they’ve had enough” with costs like finding somewhere else to live and paying a removalist.
The NFF’s plan also includes relief for council rates and pasture lease charges.
The farm lobby wants the Commonwealth to look at payroll subsidies of farming business in line with Newstart.
Other measures include:
* a $2000 top-up of the Assistance for Isolated Children allowance
* two years interest free for Regional Investment Corporation drought loans
* a plan to work with state governments towards eradication of feral pigs.
The coalition introduced legislation to parliament last week which will allow farmers doing it tough to get extra lump sums of up to $13,000 once they reach a four-year limit on federal government payments.
Mr Morrison said the draft laws are flexible enough for the government to ramp up its drought response from mid-next year if needed.
Having met with the NFF on Tuesday, he said the government and farmers were largely on the same page.
“There was enormous overlap between the measures that we are putting in place and the measures that they are calling for,” the prime minister told parliament on Wednesday.
He said relief on council rates is a matter for state and territory governments.
The NFF gave its national drought policy to the Morrison government last week before releasing the document publicly on Wednesday.
It is designed to tackle future droughts through a comprehensive national approach and “co-ordinating the three tiers of government and also community groups and industry”, Ms Simson said.
Meanwhile, Nationals MPs are pushing for a 10-point plan including more money for fodder, municipal rates and quarantine fees, as well as boarding school fees and costs.
The junior coalition partner wants to establish community committees made up of mayors and local community leaders, who would oversee the distribution of grants for capital projects.
Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon is calling on the government to convene a bipartisan drought cabinet and release the drought co-ordinator’s report.
“This morning we learned that the National Farmers’ Federation have a six-point plan for drought, the National Party has a 10-point plan but Scott Morrison has no plan at all,” he said.