Former agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce has called on the state governments to do more to help drought-stricken farmers as conditions across NSW continue to decline.
The New England MP, who represents Tamworth, Armidale and beyond, says the states need to do “a little more heavy lifting” and pull their weight – especially when it comes to implementing freight subsidies to help farmers pay to move stock and transport fodder and water.
“That is a role for the states, and the states need to go into bat,” Mr Joyce said.
I have been fighting in private for this and now have taken the battle public to try and show the Parliament the hurt that this drought is causing.
Mr Joyce said the NSW drought was “devastating, debilitating and unrelenting” and conditions in his own electorate were “very bad” along with those in southern parts of the state. He recently met with the NSW Farmers Association to discuss drought assistance measures.
His comments have angered shadow minister for agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon and Paterson MP Meryl Swanson – who has been reappointed as deputy chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources.
Read more:NSW drought is hell on earth
Both said Mr Joyce was a failed agriculture minister who should have done more to create better drought-support measures for farmers when he held the portfolio.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair has defended the state government’s approach to drought help, saying $3 million worth of applications for its Farm Innovation Fund were coming in every week.
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He said the government had been quickly processing the low-interest loans, which can be used to improve permanent farm infrastructure like putting down bores or building farm sheds. The loans cannot be used to buy fodder or water.
We certainly are coming to the table when it comes to putting out financial help for farmers, so there’s no doubt that we have been doing lots of heavy lifting,Niall Blair
“We’re continuing to meet farmers, go out on farm and we’ve got our drought coordinator now that’s meeting farmers and speaking to them. We’re not ruling out any further changes or further assistance, we’re certainly mindful of the views that different people have because every farming business is different.”
Read more:How you can help farmers survive
The state government’s Combined Drought Indicator shows 15.8 per cent of NSW is in drought, 32.9 per cent is at the onset of drought and 50.5 per cent is borderline. Farmers are hand feeding stock across the state and looking further and further afield for fodder.
Mr Joyce said the federal government already had a range of assistance measures in place – including the farm household allowance.
The states may have been doing more if Barnaby Joyce didn’t abolish COAG’s Standing Council on Primary Industry, which was in place in part to ensure the Commonwealth and the states were working together on drought,Mr Fitzgibbon said.
Mr Fitzgibbon hit back saying buck passing would not help the government’s relationship with the states.
Mr Blair added that the federal government’s farm household allowance was only available “when people were absolutely struggling”.
“We are trying to make sure that people don’t get to that point,” he said.
Ms Swanson said Mr Joyce should work with federal agriculture minister David Littleproud as he was “well placed to guide him as to what we should be doing as a Commonwealth instead of trying to abrogate his responsibility and palm it off to the states.”