Launch of candidate for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien's election campaign office in Maryborough - (L) Fiona Nash, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and Llew O'Brien.Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Launch of candidate for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien's election campaign office in Maryborough - (L) Fiona Nash, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and Llew O'Brien.Photo: Alistair Brightman / Fraser Coast Chronicle Alistair Brightman

Joyce throws dairy farmers a conditional lifeline

AS DAIRY farmers rallied yesterday in capital cities and regional towns around the country, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce threw them a $555 million lifeline - but it came with conditions.

Mr Joyce said the money would go to concessional loans in an expansion of the drought concessional loans package to include some dairy farmers.

He said it would give relief to dairy farmers affected by a retrospective price cut by dairy processors Murray Goulburn and Fonterra.

Both companies have blamed the price changes on a recent global market imbalance.

The program would include dairy farmers in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania, but it was unclear whether farmers in Queensland affected by the milk price war between Coles and Woolworths would be eligible for the funds.

As part of the existing drought funds loan scheme, the funding would be contingent on state government criteria that primary producers have long criticised for not delivering funds where needed.

Mr Joyce said some $55 million would be made available now and $500 million would come on line in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 years, with a repayment term of a decade.

Those funds form part of a $580 million package, including $20 million to upgrade Victoria's Macalister Irrigation District; $2 million to create a milk price index; more rural financial counsellors and the fast-tracking of farm household allowance applications.

While some farmers reportedly backed the loan announcement, concerns remained given the loans would add to the debt burden many in the dairy industry were already feeling.

Labor's agriculture spokesman, Joel Fitzgibbon, said the Opposition backed the package overall but had concerns about the details.

He said he was also worried the funds would not help those most in need, given the implementation of two previous drought loans programs was roundly criticised in an Auditor-General's report just two weeks ago.

That audit found the Farm Finance Loans scheme and the Drought Concessional Loans program were under-subscribed by 54% and 29% respectively.



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