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'We are here for local farmers': Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair on NSW Government support


The State Government wants to reassure Upper Hunter farmers they are here for them.

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair has defended the NSW Government’s decisions when it comes to their Drought Assistance package and said it has been widely accepted, particularly after the changes last month.

"We have already seen over $7 million worth of applications come in and we are getting more and more people every day looking for more information and more assistance but we will continue to monitor and if need be adjust so that we can make sure that anything else that could be done is something to consider and adjust as we go," said Niall Blair.

An additional $250 million was poured into the Farm Innovation Fund last month which included loans available of $50,000 7 years interest-free, a new kangaroo management plan was put in place and millions was also put into mental health programs, for Councils and into building Doppler radar weather stations across the state.

Niall Blair said that while a lot of farmers have taken it up, there are of course some who haven’t and could.

"Everyone is different, there are certainly plenty of farmers that have changed their operations and haven’t required any assistance but there is obviously many who have engaged with our programs and I know that there are some that are looking for things that we don't have,”

“Unfortunately this has progressed so far and wide now it’s not just a livestock drought, it’s something that's affecting every type of farming operation and we are trying to support all of our primary producers in every part of the state."

Bringing back official drought declaration is something a lot of farmers are pushing for, but Niall Blair doesn’t necessarily agree that it would be to the benefit of local farmers.

"We have our programs that are available whether there is a declaration or not."

"You used to have to have a drought declaration to access our program, that's changed."

"Regardless of what term you use or what line on a map you may or may not be on, our funding programs are there and available and that's something that we want to try and get the message through that don't get too caught up on terminology. If people need assistance, make contact and we will get the assistance to them," said the Primary Industries Minister.

“This is something that we haven’t seen the likes of for many years. It really really will be a tough summer if we don’t' get a decent break in spring. We've gone early with some of our announcements, some may say a bit late, but we believe across the board we've made some early adjustment, we will continue to make adjustments if we need to and more importantly we will also be there to support farmers particularly with that mental anguish and the psychological side to the drought as well."

"We have now moved from ‘preparation’ to ‘in drought’ assistance."

As well as drought declaration, freight subsidies are another thing farmers have been keen to see back in place.

"I want to reassure everyone that we wouldn't make a change if we didn't think it was in the best interest of the farmers and the community,”

“Some people question whether we should have gone back to the old days of things like transport subsidies but paying 50 per cent of a transport cost that a farmer themselves has to fund fully upfront and get a reimbursement versus what we are providing with some of our programs; we've done the analysis particularly on the cash flow and it works better for the farmers. Now it is different and I acknowledge that not everyone is across it but we are more than willing to sit down and talk people through this.”

“I don't want people dipping into their overdraft at 10 per cent to buy and then claim back a 50 per cent rebate from us, it just doesn’t stack up.”

On Monday Federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud met with the big banks including the Commonwealth, ANZ, NAB, Westpac and RaboBank at a drought roundtable in a bid to discuss what can be done to cut farmers some slack.

David Littleproud today said that the roundtable had been constructive and the banks are willing to further discuss Farm Management Deposits and how the model can be improved.

Niall Blair said he was pleased the roundtable went ahead.

"This is going to take everyone working together whether it’s the banks, the Federal Government, the State Government, or the Local Government; this is no longer just an issue that's affecting on farm this is an issue that is affecting all of our regional communities because we rely upon our farming sector to be strong right across NSW."

Also up for discussion at the roundtable was the difficulty some farmers have with filling out all of the paperwork to get access to Federal help as well as the asset tests.

"Some of their tests they're using particularly when they look at farm valuation and how that may impact on assessing their farm and the other thing if a farmer has to destock the sale of that stock what we would determine to be a forced sale is sometimes being used against that farmer as income to then prohibit them from accessing some of the Federal Government programs," said Niall Blair.

"We are at the ready to work with the Federal Government and make sure that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with our farmers until this thing ends."

Image credit: Grant Broadcasters/Jessica Rouse