News National Rain arrives as Abbott begins drought tour

Rain arrives as Abbott begins drought tour

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· First rain for toddler
· PM wants first-hand drought tour

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will tour a property near Broken Hill on Monday ahead of a cabinet meeting to discuss drought aid.

Mr Abbott on Sunday visited properties in Bourke and Longreach to talk to farmers and community leaders about their needs.

Following his visit to the western NSW sheep farm, the PM will head back to Canberra where cabinet will meet to discuss a “fair but responsible” assistance package, to be announced next week.

At its core will be the redefining of drought as a natural disaster, which will open the way for cash payments and targeted welfare spending for families and individuals when drought hits.

The government is also considering making cheaper and longer loans available, for larger amounts of money than currently available under the $420 million Farm Finance package approved last year.

The package will raise the package to $700 million and loans of less than 4.5 per cent will also be available to struggling farmers, The Australian reports.

More than 70 per cent of Queensland and half of NSW is in drought.

Yesterday Mr Abbott inspected some cattle on Phil and Di Ridge’s 40,000-hectare family farm, Jandra.

The prime minister declined a seat in a luxury four-wheel drive to arrive at a cattle watering station in a rusty Holden ute.

“It’s very important to see and feel how you guys live,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr Ridge said the key problems that needed to be addressed were rural debt, weed and pest animal control and education allowances.

“We need money to fight a drought,” he said.

“We just can’t get ahead.” The farm received only 120 millimetres of rain in 2013 and none this year.

A typical year brings 350mm of rain.

Ironically, just as the prime minister and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce left the cattle for a woolshed it started to rain.

Mr Abbott later told a gathering at the property’s woolshed that the government would respond to the drought in a way that was “fair and responsible”.

Despite the idea being raised at both community meetings on Sunday, Mr Abbott won’t be backing a new rural reconstruction and development bank.

However, the prime minister said he would act on the findings of an agriculture white paper now under way, in order to secure the future of rural industry.

“There will be better income support,” he said.

“There will be better access to the sort of loan support that people need.

“And there will be plenty of emphasis on social support.”

He said rural industry should not be “some sort of museum piece”.

“We want it to be a dynamic part of the economy.”

He said the assistance package would be announced in coming day”.

Bourke mayor Andrew Lewis said he expected the plan to be unveiled on Monday.

He said the rain falling now on the Bourke area would be useful but not drought breaking.

“This is fantastic and I thank the PM for bringing the rain.”

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