News National Severe drought met with policy void: Joyce

Severe drought met with policy void: Joyce

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· Fears drought will lead to suicides

The lights aren’t on but somebody’s home.

Farmers in drought-affected areas of Australia are doing it so tough some can’t afford to keep the power on, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce says.

At the end of a road trip through rural parts of northern NSW and southern Queensland, Mr Joyce said the dry conditions are “exceptionally severe”.

“They have not just missed this crop, but they missed the one before and there’s no prospect of a winter crop,” he told AAP from the NSW town of Walgett on Sunday afternoon.

While it’s far from the longest drought on record Mr Joyce said when it comes to financial support there is a “policy void after exceptional circumstances supports were removed under the previous government”.

“There is just no financial support for these people. They’re not getting any money coming into their homes for lights and hot water, let alone labour and water and fodder,” Mr Joyce said.

Many landowners are in massive debt and have been holding on to the hope of rain.

Lower than average rainfall is forecast for the next three months across the majority of inland Victoria, NSW and southern Queensland, the Department of Agriculture website says.

“What’s the solution? I haven’t quite worked that one out yet,” Mr Joyce said, adding that Canberra has already started rolling out assistance.

“These people sit back, take a punt for our nation, scratch out an existence in the dirt, wait for rain and then hope and pray that after the rain the grass grows and the market is right.

“After years of it not raining I think they have a right to say `there’s a role for our nation in this process’.”

To give an idea of the drought’s severity, Mr Joyce said “even the kangaroos are dying by the thousands”.

“Most Australian workers would think it’s pretty unfair to be told `you’ll be paid the next time it rains’. Well this is even worse, because no one sees any money until at least four months after it rains.”

Mr Joyce has attended a series of meetings during his travels and plans to relay the feedback to his Canberra colleagues.