Interview with Deb Knight, Today Show on Channel 9

Deb Knight: And there is not much rain on the horizon. Financial relief, though, is on the way for our drought- stricken farmers, with the Federal Government today announcing a major billion-dollar funding package. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested directly into regional communities, with help too for rural businesses and farmers who really are struggling to survive. Will it be enough, though?

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack joins us now from Canberra. Good morning to you.

Michael McCormack: Good morning, Deb.

Deb Knight: Michael, how much money, extra money, is the Government committing as part of this?

Michael McCormack: Well, we’ll be announcing that later on this morning, Deb. But as you've said in your intro, it's around a billion dollars. We’re investing considerable money. We’re dedicating around of the Buildin              g Better Regions fund the $200 million that- for that fund solely to those areas which are drought-stricken. And of course, we’ve got another $138 million or so dedicated to those 128 councils that have already been declared- drought declared. They’re going to get a top-up of their Roads to Recovery funding, so there’ll be a considerable amount of money for each and every one of those 128 councils, which will also receive another million dollars, a top-up for the million dollarsnthat they’ve received previously. There’s an additional six councils in that lot, so taking it to 128 councils.

This is real support. This is genuine support. This is much needed, of course, having been out and about in our drought-stricken areas, I know across the table from many, many farmers and talking to them, they know what they need. Of course there’s also a concessional loan facility available  through the Regional Investment Corporation that they can avail themselves of if- should they so wish. So should they wish to take a loan out, an interest-free over two years, they can do that up to half a million dollars. They can also, of course, many drought-affected regional businesses, and that's what I've been hearing on the ground. So it's not just farmers, it's about regional communities. It’s about those ag-related businesses. And they can take out that loan under the RIC. They can invest in themselves in their futures, should they so wish and they don't have to pay any interest for two years.

Deb Knight: So two years, though, that period, it’s going to take a lot longer than two years, isn't it, for a lot of these farmers and rural businesses to get back on their feet?

Michael McCormack: Well, yes of course. So for some they’ll recover quicker. Of course, we had some half decent drops of rain over the weekend, up to and over 2 inches in many parts. Some others weren't that lucky. But for those areas, they may well bounce back quicker if they get follow-up rains. [Indistinct] we’ll bounce back quicker if …

Deb Knight: [Interrupts] So will you look at extending it beyond two years for those who need it?

Michael McCormack: Well, we’ll see it. We’ll see about that. I mean, the fact is, we’ve been monitoring the drought very, very closely. We’ve got people who live in these drought-affected communities. I live in a drought- affected community. I hear it every day, I report back of course, as does the Drought Minister, David Littleproud, who is a dedicated minister for drought, who sits around the cabinet table. Of course, Bridget McKenzie, the Agriculture Minister, she lives in a drought-affected community too, as do all the Nationals and regional Liberals. We live this every day.

Deb Knight: But if you say you recognise the help that's needed, can't you commit to that? To say if they need it beyond the two years, yes, we commit, it will be available.

Michael McCormack: Well, as I say, what we’ve been doing with this drought is we’ve been making a stepped payments and stepped packages all the way through. As …

Deb Knight: [Interrupts] It's a pretty simple question, though, isn’t it? Will it be available? Yes or no?

Michael McCormack: Well, the fact is we are making it available. It is available for-

Deb Knight: Beyond the two years?

Michael McCormack: We’ll see if it's required beyond the two years. And if it's required beyond the two years, well of course, as a responsible Government, as a government with the drought very much in mind, of course we will continue assistance. That's what we do. That's what we’ve done the whole way through. We’ve always monitored this drought, and we’ve always provided the assistance the whole way through as it's been needed, as it's been asked for. And whether it's councils, whether it’s regional businesses, or whether it's farmers, indeed, we’ve provided the assistance they have asked for, bearing in mind of course that the National Farmers’ Federation has been supportive of our endeavours and of our assistance measures the whole way through.

Deb Knight: But they’ve also called for other things like exit loans to help, and exit packages, farmers to get off the land which is not included in this package.

Michael McCormack: No, it's not. But there are things that we will continue to look at. We want our farmers to stay on the land. Importantly, we want there to be a future in agriculture. Agriculture is not broken. By no  means whatsoever. Agriculture still has a huge part to play. Food security in our nation is one of our most important things. We will continue to make sure that that food security is there. We’ll continue to make sure our farmers have incentive to stay on the land, to do the job that they’ve always done for our nation and for others, besides. Of course our trade markets make it imperative that our farmers need to prosper, not just survive, but indeed thrive, and that's what we will be doing as a Federal Government, backing them all the way as Liberals and Nationals always do.

Deb Knight: Alright. Well let's hope this package actually does deliver the help that's needed. Michael McCormack, we’ll await the details on it when it's announced today. We thank you for your time this morning.

Michael McCormack: Thanks Deborah, anytime.