The weather bureau is expecting widespread rain just as the Prime Minister embarks on a two-day tour of drought-hit areas.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s tour of drought-hit NSW and Queensland will coincide with some of the most widespread rain in Australia in two years and fresh calls for more assistance.
Mr Abbott and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce will tour western NSW and central western Queensland over the weekend to talk to farmers and community leaders about their plight.
As they do, rain and milder temperatures are due in most of NSW, while showers are forecast for southwest Queensland on Saturday and central western Queensland from Monday.
Western NSW grazier Chris Wilhelm says farmers are nervous about the future, given that a nine-year drought ended only five years ago.
He said many graziers had little access to water and feed and, after heavy destocking, were left only with core breeding stock which they are loath to sell.
“It is a horribly serious situation we are facing if it doesn’t rain.”
He says funds for freighting hay, longer terms of up to 15 years for low-interest loans and tax relief would help farmers restock when conditions improve.
About 70 per cent of Queensland and more than half of NSW are in drought.
Mr Joyce, who is preparing a drought aid submission for cabinet, was worried rain could drown out his message about farmers’ urgent needs.
“I’m taking the prime minister for a run around because I believe there is more that we can do,” the southwest Queensland-based minister said.
“I’m terrified that I’m going to be standing there talking about drought with an umbrella in my hand.”
However, he said even if drought-breaking rain fell soon, many farmers would take six to 12 months to start to earn any income, having heavily destocked or been unable to plant a crop.
A range of state and federal payments and concessional loans has been made available, but there are calls for other measures.
Liberal frontbencher and former farmer Sussan Ley, who represents the western NSW seat of Farrer, spent much of January talking to drought-hit families and businesses.
She says the government should review the farm management deposit scheme to remove tax penalties for drought-hit producers making early withdrawals of money.
The cap on the amount of money that can be put away should also be raised.
Farmers who put in water-related equipment should be able to write if off within 12 months.
And Ms Ley said a national plan was needed to deal with feral and wild animals.
“What little water and pasture there is is under huge pressure from kangaroos, goats, pigs, emus, rabbits, foxes and donkeys,” she told AAP.
Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the opposition would support improvements to farm income support as well as action within the Council of Australian Governments on a new form of emergency disaster relief payment.
The prime minister is expected to visit cattle and sheep farms around Bourke, Broken Hill and Longreach over the weekend.