The Federal Government has committed $50 million to top-up a drought rebate scheme that ran out of money 18 months early.
- The scheme is designed to help farmers drought-proof their properties by offering a 25 per cent rebate on dam cleaning and bore drilling projects
- The initial $50 million ran out earlier this year, with 2,000 farmers left out of pocket
- Water Minister Keith Pitt says next week’s budget will include another $50 million — if the states co-contribute
Drought-affected farmers who invest in water projects, like drilling bores or cleaning dams, could again be entitled to rebates worth up to $25,000, Water Minister Keith Pitt announced in Bundaberg today.
Mr Pitt said the next week’s Federal Budget would include the cash to extend the On-farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme, if the funding was matched by state governments.
He said some 7,600 applications had been approved and the scheme had been over-subscribed by at least 2,000 applications.
States must play part
Mr Pitt argued the scheme had been poorly managed by states including Queensland and New South Wales.
“The Commonwealth doesn’t want to leave those farmers out on a limb, so we’re delivering an additional $50 million to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“The states must co-contribute, dollar for dollar.
“It will still be a 25 per cent rebate, half provided by the state, half provided by the Commonwealth.”
He said he would write to the states to ask them to participate.
“The remainder will be put to good use in drought-stricken areas.”
Mr Pitt said the eligibility criteria, targeting drought-affected graziers and horticulturists with permanent plantings would remain the same.
‘Restores faith in system’
Sunshine Coast passionfruit farmer Jane Richter, who rallied a group of farmers who missed out on the rebate, said she was “absolutely delighted” with the announcement.
“It’s restoring faith in the system,” Mrs Richter said.
She and her husband drilled a bore on their property before finding there was no money left in the scheme.
She found 15 other local growers who were, collectively, $130,000 out of pocket.
“My husband and I faced leaving farming altogether over the last 12 to 18 months because we simply had run out of water, and we are still in a desperate drought situation.
“If a scheme is grossly oversubscribed and runs out 18 months into a three-year program, then it was essentially underfunded in the first place.”
‘They let you down’
Dragon fruit farmer Bruce Wallace said his faith had not been restored just yet after his experience of missing out on $9,000 after drilling a bore on his Bundaberg property.
“You’re told by the Government what to do and how to do it, and when it comes time for them to pick their bit up, they let you down,” Mr Wallace said
“Prices and costs are going two different ways, so you’ve got to watch every penny.
“I’ll be very happy to receive it. Not just for me but for all the others who have been through the same situation. But it’s not a sure thing, is it?”
State paid its share says Furner
Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner defended Mr Pitt’s claim the scheme was mismanaged by state governments.
“The Queensland Government has consistently paid 50 per cent emergency water infrastructure rebates to drought-impacted primary producers,” Mr Furner said, referring to the State Government’s own emergency water infrastructure rebate scheme.
“The Federal Government withdrew its 25 per cent rebate in 2015, restored it after the 2018 drought summit, withdrew it again this year and has now announced it will resume.
“Queensland’s drought-affected farmers deserve better than the contempt and flip-flopping shown by the Federal Government.”
Eligibility needs broadening
Queensland Farmer’s Federation policy adviser water Sharon McIntosh said the group was thankful for the extra money, but the eligibility criteria needed broadening.
“We would fully support the state to pull up and support the other part of the funding, but we also need to be very wary it’s only for a small portion of farmers in the state,” she said.
“Many are still struggling to get the money they need.
“We’ve got a lot of irrigators, big-scale farmers, that produce food, fibre and foliage, who have not got a look-in.”