Former SA Liberal MP slams farmer ‘Crisis payments’

Matthew Franklin; 10/3/10

A long-serving former Liberal MP has broken ranks with his old colleagues to attack the nation’s system of drought relief, saying it encourages farmers to keep working properties that are not viable. Barry Wakelin, who held the South Australian seat of Grey between 1993 and 2007, told The Australian yesterday that farmers should face the same concept of mutual obligation for taxpayer support as was applied to welfare recipients. Wakelin said existing drought-relief arrangements, including interest rate subsidies and direct payments, did not include any incentive for recipients to modify their operations to make them deal better with future droughts. … The current exceptional circumstances drought relief system provides interest rate subsidies and direct income support for farmers who live within areas designated as being affected by drought. Agriculture Minister Tony Burke is working on sweeping reforms, including abolishing interest rate subsidies and making aid contingent on farmers demonstrating a willingness to use good economic times to insulate themselves against future drought. Mr Burke yesterday told parliament he was proceeding with planning for a new system.