The Federal Government is trying work out why less than a quarter of the $300 million it released in the wake of the north Queensland floods was taken up by farmers, two years after the disaster.
- The Federal Government is trying to work out why less than a quarter of the money released after the 2019 floods has been taken by graziers
- Professor Bruce Chapman says governments should rethink offering farmers more debt
- The Cloncurry Shire mayor says little rain after the floods is the main reason why producers are not taking up the grants
Only $66 million has been claimed by north Queensland farmers.
In the months after the floods, $400,000 grants were offered to primary producers, who needed to match the funding with their own money.
Governments offering farmers debt in the face of disaster has come under fire before with loans offered to help producers in drought receiving a mixed response.
That issue has reared its head again, with Shane Stone from the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency admitting earlier this week that people had issues matching the grant.
Professor Bruce Chapman from the Australian National University, who has been studying the Government’s response to disasters for a number of years, said he was not surprised to hear the dollar-for-dollar grants were unpopular.
“They’ve got to find that money somehow and the way you would normally find that money is through a bank loan,” Professor Chapman said.
With many farmers in drought feeling the same way about the prospect of borrowing money, Professor Chapman has proposed governments offer primary producers loans they can pay back when revenue recovers — similar to HECS loans for university students.
“We need something different, we need a bridging arrangement for small business or for farmers to be able to survive the terrible times,” he said.
“It’s not to replace the banks, the banks could help finance it. But as a compliment when times are really severe.”
Mayor says current system will work
With more than 500,000 head of livestock killed by the floods, the dollar-for-dollar grants have played an important role for some graziers who lost almost everything.
Cloncurry Shire mayor and grazier Greg Campbell has taken some of the Government offering.
But he said with little rain after the floods many properties had gone back into drought and were still lightly stocked.
“Specifically with our family, we haven’t accessed as much as what is on offer because we haven’t got the feed to sustain any more cattle at the moment.”
Cr Campbell said with sustained low interest rates most graziers in the area would not have a problem borrowing money to access government grants if the season turns around.
“Especially on the back of how strong cattle prices are at the moment, and money’s relatively cheap to borrow,” he said.
“The agricultural sector carries a fair bit of debt, but it would be a pretty good business move to be able to access those grants.”
Push for better infrastructure
Aside from the push to help graziers rebuild their herds after the floods, the area has been collectively pushing for upgrades to infrastructure like roads, rail, and telecommunications.
The National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency has responded with a $58 million fund directly targeted at infrastructure spending.
Cr Campbell said he would like to see any money left over from the dollar-for-dollar scheme redirected to other projects in the area.
“We’ve proven, through the flood, the best agency to get things happening on the ground is through councils,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency said it was sticking with the dollar-for-dollar grants at this point.
“We’re confident that as conditions improve people will find themselves in a better position to take advantage of the grants,” the spokeswoman said.
“We’ve also extended the closing date to buy much-needed breathing space and allow people to make the best possible decisions for their business and their families.”
The spokeswoman said any reallocation of the funding needed to be a decision for the Government.