Parties clash over drought-proofing funds

By Country News

The Federal Government has taken aim at Labor, slamming the party’s decision not to support the Drought Future Fund.

The $3.9billion fund would have been redirected from the Building Australia Fund to help pay for drought-proofing and resilience projects, but was voted down in the House of Representatives last Tuesday.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud accused Labor of turning its back on regional communities, but Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon hit back, saying the party had other plans to fund drought resilience.

‘‘After more than five years of inaction on the drought resilience front, the government has come to the party but says only at the expense of important road and rail projects, many of which will benefit our farmers and regional communities,’’ Mr Fitzgibbon said.

‘‘Labor will spend the same amount of money as the government plans to spend, but without cutting road and rail investment.

‘‘The more you look at the government’s Future Drought Fund, the more it looks like another National Party slush fund.’’

A Senate committee recommended the bill be passed but did note concerns had been expressed about the bill, only requiring the agriculture minister to consult with the Regional Investment Corporation Board about the merits of a proposal for funding.

‘‘National Farmers’ Federation recommended that the minister for agriculture be required to seek advice on funding decisions not only from the RICB, but also from the NFF’s proposed FDFCC (Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee),’’ the report said.

Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the planned fund was ‘‘clear, effective and fiscally sustainable’’ and Mr Littleproud said the fund would have assisted farmers at their most vulnerable.

‘‘The $3.9billion Drought Future Fund, growing to $5billion, guarantees around $100million a year into drought-proofing our communities — including through climate adaptation, building sustainable agriculture, investing in research and development and growing more with less water,’’ Mr Littleproud said.

The Labor Party has proposed implementing a Farm Productivity and Sustainable Profitability Plan — developed by an expert panel of scientists, economists, research bodies and farm industry leaders — which will receive $100million a year in funding.