The NSW government's announcement on Tuesday that it would extend some of its drought support measures is on the whole, welcome news for the regions.
The announcement also includes the detail on some infrastructure projects that the NSW government is hopeful will provide "regional stimulus". These projects are sensible, especially if they are "fast-tracked" as per the announcement.
We do welcome these projects, and, at the end of the day, the government made a commitment to spend money in the regions upon the recent sale of some public assets, so we are happy to see the government sticking to the plan in that regard.
The CWA of NSW is, however, continuing to call for more direct drought support for regional businesses. In this package, Local Land Services (LLS) and fixed water rates will both continue to be waived for farmers for the next financial year, both are very welcome waivers, providing direct support.
Rebates on transport of fodder will continue, with an additional $70 million allocated for that, and criteria loosened on some elements, like removing distance limits. We are hopeful this will allow for more farmers to access and be approved for these rebates.
At our recent state conference, members called for drought assistance not only for the farming sector, but for non-primary producers as well, as it is becoming increasingly evident these rural businesses are becoming as affected by drought as farmers.
To date, governments at all levels have not offered small rural business direct drought support. We are calling for a tailor made drought support program for these businesses. Keeping them going through the dry years makes drought recovery possible on and off-farm, when the drought finally does break, and allows the community to prepare for the next one.
The emergency drought relief package announced on Tuesday includes $170m for identified infrastructure projects. Particularly welcome are the number of water storage and water access infrastructure projects. Regional water supply, and quality of that water, is an increasing concern for the CWA of NSW.
However, these so called "regional stimulus" projects do not tackle the immediate problem for many rural businesses who are struggling to make it through, especially as dry conditions are expected to continue.
Further, $170m is likely to be stretched very thin when you consider the costs of these major projects, and that most of the state is still in severe grips of drought, but will miss out on this round.
Regional infrastructure is always a welcome move, and we applaud the government for focusing their attention on the regions during this incredibly difficult period of drought. However, the CWA of NSW will be continuing our quest for more direct drought assistance for all rural communities and businesses, including farmers, farming services, and non-farming rural businesses.