Showdown looming over $3.9b drought fund

Labor insists it wants to do more for drought-stricken farmers, but remains concerned about the federal government’s proposed long-term drought fund.

The $3.9 billion kitty for drought-proofing projects is being re-introduced to parliament on Monday.

But Labor, which has previously knocked back the fund, remains unconvinced it is the best way to help producers doing it tough into the future.

The opposition has taken issue with the coalition’s plan to draw the fund from the existing Building Australia Fund.

Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon is also worried the fund won’t kick in for another year and about uncertainty on how the money will be spent.

“We still don’t know what the government is going to spend the money on – there’s been no detail on that whatsoever,” he told ABC Radio National.

“We still don’t understand why the government wants to take money away from important infrastructure projects – roads, rail etc – including in regional Australia, to pay for another important measure.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the opposition would support “any level” of funding for drought-proofing measures, if it’s set aside in the budget instead of taken from the Building Australia Fund.

“This is the kind of approach that turns people off politics,” he wrote in an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.

Drought Minister David Littleproud says the infrastructure fund Labor is concerned about has been redundant for five years, with the government separately spending $100 billion on infrastructure.

“We’re going out and we’re spending on infrastructure in the regions like we never have before,” he told ABC Radio National.

“So this is a petty, petty excuse, and this is why people hate politicians.”

The National Farmers Federation has also lashed Labor’s approach, saying the government’s fund is a “holistic, strategic plan”.

“We’ve been disappointed by the consternation and what appears to be game-playing by the opposition,” NFF President Fiona Simson told The Australian.

Despite its issues with the bill, Mr Fitzgibbon insists Labor stands ready to support farmers.

“The parliament is absolutely united on this question, we all want to do more for drought-affected farmers.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has questioned whether that is the case, saying there won’t be any deals done to secure the passage of laws setting up the fund.

“Labor need to answer a simple question – will you support our farmers or not?” Mr Morrison said ahead of the debate.

“Drought funding is not something we should be having to make deals on, it should be a no-brainer, something that should just get done.”

“So there’ll be no deals, just a simple request to vote for the bill that will provide for long-term drought resilience works. It’s quite absurd that Labor have opposed it for this long already.”

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said the government has a record of funnelling money into pet projects.

He said if the coalition was serious about the drought, it would have a comprehensive climate change policy.


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