THE National party has called the drought its number one priority, but has failed to outline what additional steps it plans to take to help the state’s increasingly frustrated farmers.
With a number of landholders hitting out at the state government’s perceived lack of response, NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair vowed to do more and hoped to “be in a position to make an announcement in the near future”.
“We haven an exhaustive list to look at and we are going through to see what will make the biggest difference for farmers,” he said.
“We’re looking at every single option that’s ever been done in NSW, other jurisdictions in Australia and overseas to come up with a solution.
“We need to see what can be adapted to the conditions in NSW, and that’s what we’re working on at the moment.”
“The drought is our number one priority.”
However, when pressed, Mr Blair would not offer any examples, other than to say “every option” was being considered.
“As the Premier and I have clearly indicated in the last two days, we will be doing more, which is what we are working on at the moment,” he said.
The overwhelming majority of local farmers have been calling for transport subsidies, rather than loans, with many forced to cart in fodder from as far as South Australia. However, so far, those calls have fallen on deaf ears.
Even Northern Tablelands MP and Tourism Minister Adam Marshall has broken ranks and cabinet solidarity, calling the reintroduction of freight subsidies “a must”.
Mr Blair said he “was not ignoring calls” for freight subsidies.
“I will make the point that this is not just about transport subsidies,” he said.
“We want assistance that’s going to help every farming business. That’s the challenge.”
Farmers don’t want another loan
So far the government’s offer of a seven-year interest-free $50,000 loan has proven unpopular among the state’s tens of thousands of farmers – less than 280 farmers have applied for one, while only 109 have been granted.
Mr Blair said the interest-free loans weren’t the only form of help on offer.
“The loan program shouldn’t be looked at in isolation,” he said.
“There is another $233 million we’ve rolled out to thousands of farms across the state.”
The Primary Industries Minister defended the government’s response to the drought.
“The announcements we’ve made so far were absolutely adequate given the situation we were in,” he said.
“In just over five weeks, we’ve had literally hundreds of applications, so that’s hit the mark.
“Now we find ourselves in the middle of winter and conditions have worsen, so we’re looking at what else we can do.
“I could understand [farmers’ frustration] if we had said that was the end of [the assistance], but we haven’t. We said we’ll be doing more.”
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