A non-rainy day fund

By Country News

A $5billion fund to guard Australian farmers against future droughts will be at the heart of the Federal Government’s plan to tackle barren conditions over the next decade.

The Future Drought Fund will help primary producers, non-government organisations and communities prepare for and respond to the impact of drought.

The fund, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison ahead of last week’s National Drought Summit in Canberra, will be underpinned by an initial $3.9billion injection before growing to $5billion in 2028.

Mr Morrison said the step came after farmers across Australia had urged the government to prepare for the future.

‘‘This has been one of the key messages we’ve had as we’ve gone around the country with Major-General Stephen Day who has been our co-ordinator general on drought, and that is what we need to invest and build resilience for the future,’’ he said on Friday.

‘‘It really is about putting money away for a non-rainy day.’’

The money will be managed by the existing Future Fund board of guardians, who recently reported a 9.3 per cent return and a $145.8billion funds balance for 2017-18.

From 2020, about $100million a year will be available with payments starting from July that year.

The funds will be used to provide community services, research and assist in the adoption of technology.

It will also pay for advice and infrastructure to support long-term sustainability when drought strikes.

Political and agricultural industry leaders were set to discuss the criteria for projects captured by the fund at last Friday’s summit, prompted by the crippling drought sweeping eastern Australia.

National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said while government support for the current drought was important, farmers would be better served by a holistic plan for dry times.

‘‘I believe it is a well-accepted view, from the prime minister down, that we can’t afford to continue to be reactive in responding to drought,’’ Ms Simson said.

The NFF also wants a new agreement between the federal and state governments to provide a national approach to drought preparation, response and recovery.

The Council of Australian Governments is set to consider a new agreement by the end of the year, underpinning a national drought strategy.

Mr Morrison on Thursday announced a $15million grant program for regional community groups, as part of $1.8billion in assistance.