Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised to bring forward a financial assistance package for drought-stricken farmers in response to demands from Nationals MPs, led by Agriculture Minister Senator Barnaby Joyce, for urgent drought assistance.
The Farm Household Allowance, which hands farmers up to three years of fortnightly income assistance at the same level as the Newstart Allowance during droughts, was due to begin on July 1. But Mr Abbott moved to head off Nationals’ concerns amid a worsening drought in parts of NSW and Queensland.
‘‘This is a very serious issue and Barnaby is right to be very concerned,’’ Mr Abbott said on Thursday.
‘‘Yes, there is a new package of drought assistance coming and what we’re looking at is bringing that forward. The problem is now and it does need to be dealt with now.’’
Mr Abbott said the government would not sit on its hands but wanted to dispense the money ‘‘as soon as possible’’.
Farmers in parts of Queensland have not had decent rain for two years and Senator Joyce, who last week travelled through drought-affected regions, has spoken passionately in recent weeks of the devastation visited upon ‘‘mum and dad’’ farmers, in some cases leading to suicides.
The decision came as Nationals MPs came together for their first party room meeting of the year in Bundaberg, Queensland, to discuss further assistance measures they will seek from the government for drought-hit farmers.
The National Farmers Federation has also backed calls for a bigger rescue package for farmers, which comes as Treasurer Joe Hockey declared an end to the ‘‘age of entitlement’’.
Earlier this week Nationals MPs Darren Chester, John ‘‘Wacka’’ Williams and George Christensen publicly threw their support behind Senator Joyce.
Mr Christensen suggested the time was ripe to consider a government-backed rural development bank.
Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said Mr Joyce should restore the $40 million he had withheld from the Farm Finance low interest loans scheme to assist farmers hit by drought.
The story Tony Abbott pledges financial aid as spectre of drought stalks the land first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.