Tony Abbott has vowed to help farmers as The Nationals have moved to appeal to banks for help with drought-stricken farmers.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has vowed to do more to help drought-stricken farmers but warns the government’s response to their plight will be fiscally responsible.
Mr Abbott says the government has heeded the call of farmers in some parts of Queensland and NSW by fast-tracking a new assistance scheme ahead of its planned July 1 start date.
“We accept for those parts of Australia which are doing very badly … more needs to be done, and we will do more,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
“But we’re also very conscious of the fact that we have to be a fiscally responsible government and have to be a fair government.”
Mr Abbott is under pressure from coalition partners The Nationals to do more for farmers, as cabinet prepares to consider a major new assistance package.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce both have asked banks to be patient with their drought-stricken farm customers.
Calling the drought a “natural disaster of major proportions”, Mr Truss said commercial lenders need to be understanding.
“The banks have done well from the farm sector in good times, so they must now stand by their rural customers when they need a helping hand,” he said.
His call comes after a Nationals party room meeting in Bundaberg on Thursday where drought assistance was top of the agenda.
Mr Truss says timely access to welfare payments will be essential for farmers in the months ahead but even more will be needed.
Among options considered by the Bundaberg meeting was to review the assessment criteria for a concessional loan scheme that would allow more farmers to qualify for the farm finance package.
Mr Joyce is putting together a comprehensive drought assistance package which he plans to take to cabinet, possible as early as next Tuesday.
“Ultimately they need access to finance to pay for the fodder, to pay for the fuel, to pay for wages, because they’ve got to the end of their capacity to do it themselves,” he said.
Mr Joyce has had meetings with the banks this week to caution them against foreclosing loans on struggling farmers.
The move has the backing of the Labor opposition, with shadow treasurer Chris Bowen saying it was in best interests of lenders not to make premature or unnecessary decisions.
“Banks have a social responsibility to treat all their customers with a degree of compassion when there are circumstances out of their control,” he said.
The National Farmers Federation and the NSW Farmers Association have both urged the government to decide immediately on assistance measures.