Aid money flowing for drought-hit NT pastoralists

Aid money flowing for drought-hit NT pastoralists

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Federal drought relief money is now flowing into the Territory.

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NT Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Paul Kirby and drought co-ordinator-general Shane Stone visited Katherine today to take part in a ministerial forum on progressing Northern Australia.

NT Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Paul Kirby and drought co-ordinator-general Shane Stone visited Katherine today to take part in a ministerial forum on progressing Northern Australia.

Federal drought relief money is now flowing into the Territory.

Newly appointed drought coordinator-general Shane Stone has said much-needed money from a multi-billion dollar fund is flowing into the NT, as pastoralists and communities struggles through one of the driest years on record.

Last month, Senator Sam McMahon told a federal parliament inquiry the NT Government had failed to make an application for drought aid, while other regions reaped the benefits.

She said hundreds of cattle had been destocked from the NT because of successive failed wet seasons and a chronic shortage of feed.

But at a ministerial forum in Katherine this week, the former NT chief minister, Shane Stone, said it was not up to governments to make the applications.

Primary producers have made applications. There is money coming into the NT. - Drought co-ordinator-general Shane Stone

"The system here is different than interstate. The Territory and WA are the same in that you don't make a formal drought declaration.

"How it works is I have a budget of close to $8 billion dollars... that has been distributed by appropriate agencies and governments. It is up to people to go and make the application.

"People here have accessed money. Governments don't necessarily have visibility of who's applying for what. Some of that money like house hold allowances doesn't require a drought declaration.

But whether there is enough depends on who you talk to, he said, "people will always say more is needed."

The NT has experienced one of its worst wet seasons on record this year, with the Barkly in particular feeling the pinch.

The NT has experienced one of its worst wet seasons on record this year, with the Barkly in particular feeling the pinch.

Mr Stone was unable to give a figure on how much of the multi-billion dollar fund had made it into the Territory, and admitted there was a level of confusion and a failure to communicate that there is funding available.

"We don't want politics in this, this is all above politics. This is about helping people access the funding, making sure they are aware of it and then working together collaboratively to make sure people get a level of relief."

The newly appointed coordinator said he was on day two of an extensive tour through the Northern Territory, with a simple mission: to find out what people need during the long dry.

"I am taking the Cattleman's Association with me... and hitting the track.

"We are not mind readers, we will be asking 'what do you need?'"

He said he is expecting people will be able to tell him what the shortcomings are.

The red shaded areas show the record dry across the Barkly in the past two years. Graphic: Bureau of Meteorology.

The red shaded areas show the record dry across the Barkly in the past two years. Graphic: Bureau of Meteorology.

"And hopefully I will be able to tell them... we can help with that, but we might also have to tell them no, that's not what we can do."

Speaking with Mr Stone, Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Paul Kirby said the Territory Government and the NT Cattleman's Association had developed a 10 point plan - a broad explanation of what pastoralists need on the ground.

Minister Kirby backed Mr Stone's claim saying there "certainly have been farmers who have accessed the fund."

"So if people are claiming there have been absolutely no assistance that's not quite correct."

He said people have been accessing rental reliefs, and gaining strength from a range of programs building capacity and resilience.

"We have been working closely with the cattlemen, farmers, live exporters and the buffalo council to make sure we get the right information from them," Minister Kirby said.

"We did a trip during the dry season... to speak with farmers to see what the key points were for them.

"Some of the points were that they just don't understand where they can access funds, loans and grants, and that is something we have been concentrating on recently."

Some people don't understand where they can access funds, loans and grants. - Minister for Primary Industry and Resources Paul Kirby

In November, the Feral Parliament Inquiry heard from Senator Sam McMahon who questioned the steps the NT Government had taken to ask the Federal Government for help, with billions of taxpayer dollars on the table to rescue the struggling agriculture industry.

"It would seem that the NT Government just doesn't care what the costs are to producers, communities and the NT economy," she said.

"The other states are upholding their responsibility in drought assistance by providing financial help to producers for freight and fodder costs but the Gunner Government has done no such thing for the NT.

"I have heard of one producer spending $20 million on freight costs directly due to the drought. If that is the cost to just one producer, imagine the cost across the entire NT.

"Our cattle producers are not looking for charity or handouts, just a fair share of assistance from our Territory Government."

Chief Minister Michael Gunner, who was also in Katherine, said he would like to see Territorians have more access to the large bucket of drought funding.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, in Katherine today, says he would like to see more Territorians have access to drought relief.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, in Katherine today, says he would like to see more Territorians have access to drought relief.

"The Australian Government needs to revisit how it measures drought," he said.

"The Territory hasn't been drought declared because of how the government sets up those measures, but we are absolutely being impacted. We are dry as.

"There are some measures which apply to the Territory but we don't get the full sweep of things. I would love to see us get more access to that.

"The cattlemen in particular are hurting. They have put a case on the table for a $10 million fund they would like access from the [Federal Government] for resilience and infrastructure. We think that is a good idea."

The story Aid money flowing for drought-hit NT pastoralists first appeared on Katherine Times.

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