High steaks: PM launches drought fund at Beef Week

Farmers will get more support to help prepare for drought, as climate change brings more extended periods of dry.

An extra $519.1 million will go into the Commonwealth’s future drought fund to help regional communities get ready for dry times as part of the May 14 federal budget.

The fund aims to provide tools for farmers to manage drought on their properties as well as bolster capacity to withstand climate change.

As part of the boost, $235 million will go towards drought resilience programs, while $137.4 million will be channelled into measures to help producers with business planning and financial literacy.

Trials for new solutions to drought mitigation will also be funded with a further $120.3 million.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the threat of climate change makes it more critical to future-proof against looming droughts.

“What we’re going to be doing is to be using that fund as well to build resilience to get ahead of events, which, of course, by spending a dollar today, you might save three, four or five dollars down the track by making sure that we work with farmers,” he told reporters in Rockhampton at Beef Week on Tuesday.

“Whether it’s drought or floods, it’s the same principle, really.

“How do you get ahead of the events and what that will do is to lower the cost of responding to them and lower the impact as well,” he said.

“Droughts can have an absolutely devastating impact.”

The future drought fund was set up in 2019 to allow the federal government to provide grants to programs focused on drought resilience.

Queensland will receive more than $112 million in state-federal disaster assistance for communities hit by December’s southeast storms and ex-Tropical Cyclone Jasper in the far north.

The funding will go towards community health and wellbeing, small business support plus rebuilding community sport and recreational facilities.

Joint funding will also provide a recovery and resilience package worth more than $12 million for southern Queensland communities affected by late 2023 bushfires.

The money in the budget comes after a Productivity Commission review into the fund, which recommended a number of its programs be improved.

Agriculture groups have welcomed the additional money, with Farmers for Climate Action chief executive Natalie Collard saying it’s needed.

“It is a big step forward for the future drought fund to acknowledge the reality that climate change is driving more frequent and severe droughts in Australia,” she said.

“These investments will help those growing our food and fibre as they battle unpredictable changes in climate, but what we really need to slow climate change is strong action from governments.”

But Nationals leader David Littleproud said the budget funding was nothing more than measures the government had previously voted against while in opposition.

“This isn’t new money. This is actually coming from the future drought fund that we put in place, when we were in government,” he said.

“The prime minister’s hypocrisy is breathtaking.

“Much of the programs Labor is going to continue to fund are programs that were originally put in place when I was agriculture minister.”

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said it was critical for the farming sector to be sustainable.

“We’re helping farmers across the country develop business plans to manage diversification in a changing climate, we’re helping regional communities manage drought and other climate risks and helping individuals get leadership training and mentoring,” he said.

“This not only empowers farmers and communities but makes them more self-reliant when drought hits.”


Andrew Brown
(Australian Associated Press)


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