Drought Minister accused of passing the buck on portfolio
MINISTER for drought David Littleproud has been accused of playing politics, after launching an attack on Australia's state governments for their drought support packages.
Mr Littleproud claimed the 'states need to step up on drought' and 'pull their weight', in a scathing statement released on Wednesday morning.
"All state governments have to pull their weight," Mr Littleproud said.
"The Federal Government is providing up to $224,000 a year in support to farmers and we all have a part to play.
"The amount of state support available varies wildly, depending on where you live."
The minister outlined the figures for drought support in each state, which do vary.
He claimed New South Wales gives up to $69,175 to every farmer, while Queensland was giving $39,129 in direct support.
Mr Littleproud went on to say the Labor government in Western Australia provides no direct drought support, but praised the Liberal-National Government in South Australia for 'reviewing it's level of support' - that level also currently sits at zero according to the minister's figures.
The indictment on individual states' efforts in drought - drought and natural disaster are titular facets of Mr Littleproud's ministerial portfolio - came just hours before he was due to meet with state agricultural ministers to come up with solutions for Australia's worst drought on record.
In the statement, Mr Littleproud passed the buck to the states, telling them what he thinks they should do to help drought-stricken farmers.
"The states should step in and pay council rates for farmers in drought," Mr Littleproud said.
"They should also give farmers crown lease holidays - it's just not fair to charge rent on unproductive land.
"They can also give payroll tax exemptions to businesses dependent on agriculture, like the local meat works, because their drought is coming as soon as it rains.
"The states also own our power companies and can offer farmers a discounted rate through a food and fibre tariff."
Queensland's Agriculture Minister Mark Furner has since hit back at the comments, condemning Mr Littleproud's statement as a 'self-serving broadside' and claiming he is 'playing with numbers'.
"I am disappointed to see Mr Littleproud playing politics on this issue, especially on the day the nation's agriculture ministers have come together at Moree to work on solution," Mr Furner said.
"While we are standing shoulder to shoulder with Queensland farmers through this insidious drought, Mr Littleproud seems unwilling to demonstrate bipartisanship.
"This is the same government that unilaterally withdrew its 25 per cent Emergency Water Infrastructure Scheme rebate when there was a change of government in Queensland in 2015, and only committed to restoring it at last year's national drought summit."
He went on to outline a suite of assistance measures rolled out by the government in Queensland; it included reducing payroll tax rates for regional businesses, and $74.6 million in ongoing drought assistance through including emergency water infrastructure rebates, electricity charges relief for irrigators and water users, land rent rebates and water licence waivers.
"We (the Queensland Government) have also invested more than $120 million in agricultural research and extension last financial year, including researching drought-resistant crop varieties," Mr Furner said.
"State-owned Ergon is currently trialling a couple of tariffs for farmers - only possible because Queensland owns its energy assets.
"And Ergon has waived more than $3M in fixed charges for farmers living in drought affected areas."
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