A growing number of politicians are backing calls for increased drought assistance, but division remains over the best way forward.
Taking a hardline approach to handouts is fair enough but when it comes to drought-stricken farmers basic living standards must be preserved, a government senator says.
The coalition faces growing pressure to find more money for swathes of Australia’s agricultural sector struggling through a prolonged period without rain.
NSW Liberal senator Bill Heffernan said there is no easy fix and government support should not threaten the capital market.
“There has got to be some hard-nosed stuff here but at the same time there has got to be a humanitarian aspect which is keeping the kids at school and the tucker on the table,” Senator Heffernan told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
With more than 60 per cent of Queensland drought-declared and much of central northern NSW recording well-below average rainfall for the past two years, farmers are asking the government for help.
“The quickest and best thing we can do is reinstate the exceptional circumstances scheme which Labor axed,” QLD Nationals MP George Christensen told AAP.
But in the long term Australia must consider more substantial measures, including the establishment of a rural development bank as a sub-branch of the Reserve Bank.
“This is not pie in the sky stuff but it will take some careful consideration,” he said, reluctant to put a value on the amount of money needed.
National party colleagues Darren Chester and John “Wacka” Williams are on board for the creation of such a body, which could renegotiate bad debts with farmers who would otherwise face foreclosure.
Queensland MPs Clive Palmer and Bob Katter also gave in-principle support to the bank.
But Senator Heffernan was more cautious about establishing such a fund, instead encouraging diversification.
“If you grow all wheat and you’re at Walgett last year and didn’t get a crop in then you’re straight away in trouble,” he said.
The farming senator said people on the land could “offset your bet” by branching into other sectors.
Treasurer Joe Hockey has indicated willingness to consider drought assistance measures.
However on Monday he said assistance was already available to farmers, warning that the age of entitlement was over.