Malcolm Turnbull has defended the government’s drought relief package after critics branded the $12,000 cash payments for farmers “too little, too late”.
Drought-awareness campaigner Edwina Robertson broke down when she met the Prime Minister in country NSW on Sunday after he announced $190 million of relief.
A day later Ms Roberston told the ABC two payments of up to $12,000 for households was not enough.
“Everyone is saying it’s too little, too late,” she said.
But Mr Turnbull said the package was a supplement to the Farm Household Allowance, a fortnightly payment for eligible farmers totalling about $16,000 a year.
He conceded the extra payment would barely pay for a load of hay, but said National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson had labelled the package as generous.
“It is designed to keep body and soul together, not designed to pay for fodder,” the Prime Minister said.
Smatterings of rain fell on Monday in parts of eastern Australia devastated by drought, but the crippling dry spell is set to continue.
About 10mm fell in Tamworth, the most rain for six months in the NSW town, while Scone in the state’s Upper Hunter had more than 8mm.
But dry farmland across eastern Australia is not predicted to get desperately needed soaking rains through spring or summer.
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Graingrowers Limited chairman John Eastburn, who farms at Baradine in central NSW, said the meagre rainfall wouldn’t do anything for farmers.
“Little falls like this, it just settles the dust and that’s about it for an hour. We actually need major rain across the eastern seaboard,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
Mr Turnbull said the prospects for spring rain were poor.
“The forecasts are not always right as we know, but it looks tough and the croppers look like they won’t get a winter crop in in New South Wales,” he told Triple M.
Some parts of Queensland have been in drought for seven years.
Towns in some of the worst affected areas of NSW are starting to run out of water.
Mr Turnbull said the the commonwealth would work with local governments to look at trucking in water to communities if the situation worsened.
“(But) we haven’t got the same urban or town water shortage challenges we had in the millennium drought,” he told the ABC.
The Prime Minister has flagged more government support if the drought continues to pile pressure on farmers.
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said Tamworth in his NSW electorate had received about 10cm of rain for the year, half of what is normal in a desert.
“It’s like you’ve got a normal environment turned into a desert environment,” he told Sky News.
If you or anybody you know is struggling call Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 22 4636 or the Farmer Assistance Hotline 132 316.