Courier Mail, The (Brisbane), 17/08/2001, pg. 8

DROUGHT-stricken farmers in 45 Queensland shires have become the meat in a political sandwich, with federal and state primary industry ministers arguing over drought assistance.

Darling Downs farmers applied for Drought Exceptional Circumstances funding in March, and are desperate for income support and interest subsidies as they face their fourth season with no income.

Queensland Primary Industries Minister Henry Palaszczuk has accused the Federal Government of being too slow to grant the funding, but the Federal Government argues Queensland’s application did not give enough information.

Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss yesterday accused Mr Palaszczuk of taking political shots instead of helping farmers.

Federal and state ministers will meet in Darwin today to consider DEC guideline changes.
Mr Truss said he would ask ministers to make the guidelines more flexible and also ask the states to contribute more than the current 4 per cent of funding.

State Opposition Leader Mike Horan, who is touring drought-stricken Darling Downs shires, said DEC provisions needed to put people first.

“The people out here are devastated. They need a decision . . . now,” Mr Horan said.

Chinchilla farmers Rob and Helen Blanch have lost three consecutive crops — and face a fourth crop failure as wide blue Downs skies withhold planting rains.

But they count themselves lucky — they have been able to cut and bale stubble from failed crops to sell as hay, for some meagre income.

Mr Blanch said many people had no income but emergency relief approved this week giving drought-hit farmers access to Newstart payments to provide income support.

“A lot of people are putting on a brave face, but they are really concerned about the future,” he said.

Copyright 2001 / Courier Mail