No plans to help farmers recoup transport costs incurred during drought

DROUGHT: Cattle at Owen's Gap have no feed in the paddocks. They are being fed hay rations.
DROUGHT: Cattle at Owen's Gap have no feed in the paddocks. They are being fed hay rations.

Hunter farmers have urged the state government to backdate the start of the drought transport fund so they can recoup freight costs paid over the past four months.

But the state government has remained firm in its plans for the fund, saying farmers can only use the loan to pay for freight expenses incurred from April 9.

The move has led opposition spokesman for primary industries, Mick Veitch, to call on Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair to take a broader approach. 

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“The Minister should consider the circumstances of the region’s farmers who were forced to fork out money for transport earlier this year,” he said. “This assistance should be open to those who were pushed to the wall earlier this year.”

Mr Blair announced last week that eligible primary producers could access up to $20,000 in low interest loans to pay for freight expenses associated with carting food and water to the farm – or moving stock to agistment. The loan comes with a two-year interest free no repayment period.

Mr Veitch said the help had come too late and the last thing farmers needed was another loan. 

He called on the government to act in February from a drought-stricken paddock in Wallarobba and has continued to advocate for the Local Land Services rates farmers must pay to be deferred. 

“The government’s announcement [on April 9] would have been welcomed two months ago when many parts of the Hunter and surrounding regions were in the grip of severe drought,” Mr Veitch said.

“In terms of loans – many are saying to me that the last thing they want is to take on more debt.”

The Buy A Bale Hunter campaign continues to provide Upper Hunter and Lower Hunter farmers with hay, water and groceries.

The initiative, which is a partnership between the Mercury, Newcastle Herald, Dungog Chronicle, Scone Advocate, Hunter Valley News and charity Rural Aid has been running since February 14. 

Rural Aid CEO Charles Alder said farmers across the Hunter were still facing challenges.

Mr Veitch said the new Intergovernmental Agreement on National Drought Program Reform – which governs support at a state and federal level – was critical to future support measures.

“The National Party - state and federal - need to get moving on this,” Mr Veitch said.