Federal government will establish a $5 billion Future Drought Fund to deliver $100 million a year for support and resilience from 2020, but that might not be the government’s most significant agricultural achievement.
The PM’s big gesture was welcomed by farm representatives, but questions remain about the new funding stream and delivery of tangible drought reform.
The Fund was launched before state premiers and agriculture ministers and more than 100 rural representatives at the Prime Minister’s policy Drought Summit in Canberra on Friday.
The most significant immediate outcome of the day was the PM and ministers committing to pursue drought policy through the official Coalition of Australian Governments process, essentially to re-establish the Intergovernmental Agreement on Drought, established by Labor in 2013 but abandoned when Barnaby Joyce held the portfolio.
Since the Exceptional Circumstances policy was abandoned in 2013, industry has pushed for consistent drought responses across state and federal governments, to help maximise the benefit of assistance.
There is concern for wasted money and lack of policy impact when one government funds in-drought support, such as fodder or grants, while another is backs preparation measures.
The PM and ministers also agreed identified climate change as a threat and agreed to develop new initiatives to help farmers and communities plan for, and adapt to its impacts of “climate change and variability and their effects, including drought and high temperatures”.
Addressing media after the Summit, Mr Morrison said “the changing climate was of course was acknowledged” on the day, but did not address the role it played in drought.
“I thought (Victorian Premier) Daniel Andrews put it well when he said we’re not here to have an ideological discussion on climate change,” he said.
While no details for the Future Fund’s priorities have been released, the policy discussion that accompanied its launched touched on multi-peril crop insurance, making Farm Management Deposits more business friendly and increasing the focus on non-farm drought impacts.
The PM indicated dams may play a role in next year’s election campaign.
“We’re big believers in investing in catchment areas, so we don’t just see it (water) run out to sea,”. Mr Morrison said his government would have “more to say” about building more dams in the future.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson praised the Future Fund, lauded the move towards a national drought policy, and said despite initial criticism the summit was much more than a “talkfest”.
Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon branded the event a talkfest and the Fund nothing more than an a meager annual funding pledge, but praised the PM’s recognition of climate change and preparedness.
“I welcome the fact he’s starting to speak in that language, accepting that there is a need to address climate change and build resilience, rather than focus only on in-drought support,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“In reality, it’s a promise to spend $100 million on drought each year from 2020 if he’s re-elected.”
He criticised the government for it’s lack of long-term strategies for carbon mitigation, best practice climate adaptation and compared the drought fund to the ‘Barnaby Bank’ – the Regional Investment Corporation established by former Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce – which had $2b committed to it, but is yet to issue the subsidised loans it was set to distribute.
Mr Morrison pledged several new in-drought support measures on Friday:
- $30m to help families pay food and utility bills
- $50m for water infrastructure,
- $10m for mental health services
- Extending the drought communities program from 60 to 80 local councils