Queensland graziers are hopeful a new federal government assistance package will help them get through one of the worst drought’s in recent times.
Some struggling Queensland graziers have applauded the federal government’s offer of more drought assistance, while others say it has come too late.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday wrapped up a two-day listening tour of drought ravaged western Queensland and NSW ahead of a cabinet meeting to discuss drought aid.
The PM says the package, to be announced next week, will be “fair but responsible” and is expected to include low-interest loans, income support and a range of social service programs.
Brian Hughes, who owns a 28,000 hectare cattle station near Georgetown, says any additional help will be welcomed.
“I know the criteria was too hard for the Farm Finance package (low interest loans offered by the federal government),” he said.
As part of the assistance package, the government is also considering making cheaper and longer loans available, for larger amounts of money than currently available under the $420 million Farm Finance package approved last year.
The funds will raise the package to $700 million and loans of less than 4.5 per cent will also be available to struggling farmers, The Australian reports.
Mr Hughes is optimistic about his chances of making it through the drought after some decent rain this month.
“It’s just got to keep coming, they’re talking rain all this week,” he told AAP.
Grazier John Lethbridge’s situation is more bleak.
He hasn’t seen decent rain on his 110,000 acre farm, between Richmond and Hughenden, since 2012 which has forced him to sell off 90 per cent of his cattle.
Mr Lethbridge, who says the state of the industry is the worst its been in 100 years, says the federal government has been too slow to react.
“What they’ve been doing so far is 12 months behind the time,” he told AAP.
“The situation has got more dire than they can really appreciate.
“God willing we don’t have to endure another year. But if 2014 is a repeat of 2013 then literally millions of cattle will die.”
He wants the federal government to educate farmers’ “city cousins” on how important the agriculture industry is to Australia.
“If we had the support of the broader community that would be absolutely fantastic,” he said.
Northern Gulf Graziers Group chairman Barry Hughes is hopeful the government will expand eligibility for exceptional circumstances financial relief.
“It’s certainly a big change but there is still a lot to be done,” he said.
He says there is a lot of desperation and urgency among graziers and the sombre mood at a bull sale at Charters Towers earlier this month summed up how people were feeling.
Mr Hughes predicts the Queensland cattle industry will shrink over the next five years as hard hit graziers exit the industry.
He says graziers are suffering not only from the drought but also due to low cattle prices, a flooded domestic market and the impacts of a temporary ban on the live cattle export trade in 2011.
The Bureau of Meteorology said weekend rainfall was in the 20 to 55mm range, but some areas received only a few millimetres.
Further falls are expected over most of the Queensland drought area in the next week, bringing some relief to graziers.