Up to $5 billion will be stashed away for non-rainy days as part of a new fund to help farmers when future droughts scorch paddocks across Australia.
The Future Drought Fund was the key announcement made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Friday’s national drought summit in Canberra.
From 2020, about $100 million per year will be available, with payments starting from July that year.
The fund will be underpinned by an initial $3.9 billion injection before growing to $5 billion in 2028.
“This is about putting money away for a non-rainy day in the future,” the prime minister told the summit, held at Old Parliament House.
Broad-scale water infrastructure like dams and other storage vessels are among the resilience measures which will be paid for out of the new kitty.
National Farmers Federation President Fiona Simson said it was an extraordinary day for agriculture, hailing rare cooperation between all three tiers of government and industry groups as she welcomed the future fund.
“Never before have we had this amount set aside, never before have we had the ability to focus to the future and plan for the sorts of spending we would like in this space,” the Liverpool Plains farmer said.
Mr Morrison promised better cooperation between federal, state and territory governments after a day of talks.
Labor criticised the fund, with agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon zeroing in on the lack of detail about where the money would go.
“This is just an accounting trick designed to generate a big dollar headline for the government. It’s fake money until it is allocated to programs,” Mr Fitzgibbon told reporters.
Mr Morrison brushed off criticism from Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk who wanted more immediate help for farmers in her drought-affected state.
“2020 seems to be a bit far off when the farmers are struggling now,” she said.
As for relief for the current drought, which forecasters say is expected to worsen across eastern and southern Australia over the next six months, Mr Morrison announced:
* $50 million in grants for on-farm emergency water infrastructure
* $30 million will go to selected charities to support farmers, workers and suppliers
* $15.3 million in mental health initiatives, including $11 million to expand services at the six existing primary health networks and two new networks
* A program to make $1 million grants available for local councils will be extended to a further 21 shires.
* A new online hub for information about access to services and support hosted by the National Farmers’ Federation.