Drought assistance for farmers and businesses

In a package of drought assistance announced by the federal government yesterday, the largest component the allocation of $170 million to assist 1,000 farmers who decide to walk away from their land. In a total package of $714 million other measures include lifting the off-farm assets threshold from $473,000 to $750,000, a doubling of the amount that farmers or their spouses can earn off-farm to $20,000, and irrigators in the Murray Darling Basin will receive grants of up to $20,000 to help cope with low water allocations. Assistance will also be provided to all small businesses in towns of up to 10,000 residents which rely on farmers for income. Expenditure on drought relief has totalled over $3 billion since 2001, with $1.1 billion of that announced in the last week in recognition of widespread winter crop failures. Farmers on over half of the nation's agricultural land are now subsidised with special assistance drought payments.