PM unveils $320 million drought assistance package

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Drought-stricken farmers in parts of Queensland and New South Wales are set to receive a $320 million lifeline from the Federal Government.

PM unveils $320 million drought assistance package
Primt Minister Tony Abbott has announced a $320M package to ease the pain of drought affected farmers.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has unveiled a relief package yesterday for drought-hit farmers aimed at increasing access to government-backed concessional loans to allow them time to ride out a 'natural disaster', and a suite of health initiatives focusing on battling depression.     
The drought-assistance package was refined by Government after the Prime Minister toured drought-affected areas in Queensland and NSW earlier this month with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, and was finalised at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
More than 70 per cent of Queensland and 62 per cent of NSW have had no significant rain for two years, with most rural regions officially drought-declared.    
"The package is largely building on existing programs but it is making it more responsive to the particular needs of farmers hit by drought," the Prime Minister says.
He says it is not a 'special deal' for farmers nor is it a super-favourable social security scheme.
"A farmer in trouble is in a very difficult situation and a rather different situation to most of us when we are in trouble," Abbott says.
"If your farm is in dire drought, you can't sell, you can't borrow, you can't live but you've got no money."
Under the package, income support measures will be brought forward from July 1 to March 3.
Drought concessional loans totalling $280 million will be allocated to give eligible farm businesses the resources to recover from the effects of drought.
Up to $12 million will be added to existing emergency water infrastructure schemes, including supplementing those in Queensland and NSW.
Another $10 million in assistance will be available for pest management in drought-affected areas, and $10.7 million will help increase access to social and mental health services.
"We need money for people to live on now and we need support for them to get their farms back on their feet," Abbott said earlier this month in response to criticism the Government received in not providing financial assistance to companies, such as SPC Ardmona.
At the time Abbott said "what we need to understand is the difference between something that is in the ordinary course of business and something which is appropriately a response to a natural disaster".
"This is a government that does care, it's a government that understands that we will do our best to mitigate the issue," Barnaby Joyce told ABC radio on Wednesday.
"These are mums and dads ... they're not multiple billion-dollar organisations."
The outback tour by Abbott and Joyce coincided with the first rainfall the community of Bourke in NSW had seen in more than 12 months, but both agreed that the wet would have little impact on farmers' incomes and it certainly did not spell the end of the drought.
The Agriculture Minister says the Government has been in talks with the relevant state agencies and is committed to getting the money flowing to farmers in need "as quickly as possible".

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