Drought-stricken farmers are being urged to take advantage of relief packages as debate again rages within Turnbull government ranks about the impact of climate change.
Almost 20,000 people are yet to apply for the federal government’s $190 million drought relief package, which has been panned as “too little, too late” by critics.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack urged reluctant farmers to put their hands up.
“There are many, many farmers who at the moment haven’t actually made themselves available of the assistance that is there for them, and we urge and encourage them to do just that,” Mr McCormack told ABC radio on Tuesday.
In its latest round of drought support, the government is giving eligible farmers cash payments of up to $12,000 in two instalments.
There are serious concerns the application process for the public money is far too convoluted.
Drought-awareness campaigner Edwina Robertson is also worried the money simply isn’t enough.
“Everyone is saying it’s too little, too late,” she said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists the package is a supplement to the Farm Household Allowance, a fortnightly payment for eligible farmers totalling about $16,000 a year.
“It is designed to keep body and soul together, not designed to pay for fodder,” Mr Turnbull said on Monday.
Meanwhile, the prime minister has been dragged back into debate over the impact of climate change on drought.
“I think everyone agrees that we’re seeing rainfall that is, if you like, more erratic, droughts that are more frequent and seasons that are hotter,” he told the ABC.
Mr Turnbull has dismissed suggestions Australia ought to abandon global emissions reduction targets because they won’t immediately help farmers.
He reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions after former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said the government’s action would do nothing to stop droughts.
Mr Joyce, whose NSW electorate of New England has been badly affected by drought, believes reducing emissions in Australia won’t change the climate.
“Any policy we do, it’s more of a sense of a commitment to a wider purpose” he told Sky News.
“It will have no difference on the climate whatsoever – zero, zip, nothing.”
But National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simpson pointed to a 45 per cent reduction in red meat industry emissions between 2005 and 2015.
Ms Simpson said Australia needed to understand the effects of climate change to continue as a world leader.
“The impacts of climate change will mean that (drought and rain) events could be more extreme but they could be more frequent,” she said.
Farmers have meanwhile expressed concerns the media is too heavily focused on drought “disaster” stories, fearing it could damage the reputation of Australia’s livestock industry.
Their concerns have been echoed by NSW agriculture minister Niall Blair, who is worried attention on farmers shooting animals or leaving them to starve will undermine Australia’s standing as a meat-producing nation.
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