Drought aid misses target

Issue 

Drought aid misses target

By Chris Spindler

Last week the federal government announced an extra $40.3 million in drought aid to some areas that did not receive recent rainfalls. But the package has only confused farmers, as its arbitrary delineation of aid eligibility has meant that one farmer can apply while another, across the road but in the same circumstances, cannot.

Recent rainfall is a hopeful sign but gives no immediate relief. Only if follow-up rains are forthcoming will crops start to grow and farmers start to receive an income.

Strict guidelines governed the Rural Adjustment Scheme, the previous government assistance program. It was made available only to those who could demonstrate the long-term "viability" of their farms or who showed an inclination to expand their operations. Simply needing help to survive was not one of the criteria.

The latest $40 million package seems more an election stunt than a genuine concern for working farmers. Aid has not been aimed at those who need it most.

Drought aid has been directed to areas classified as drought-stricken, rather than on a basis of need. The top third of Australia's broadacre farmers, who produce more than 70% of the value of farm output, have continued making profits throughout most of the 1990s. The remaining two-thirds have either broken even or lost money in the 1992-3 period. About 35,000 farmers recorded a minus 4.4% return on capital investment.

The federal government has made use of the drought to allow the restructuring of the agricultural sector; it has not allowed financial aid to any farmer who is not "viable", which has helped to send smaller farmers to the wall.

To be effective, aid must be available to those who need it, wherever they live.