A GENEROUS new drought support package for the state’s farmers has come not a moment too soon.
The NSW Government has been rightly accused of dragging its heels on an issue that now impacts more than half of the state.
The key plank of the package is an additional $250 million in the Farm Innovation Fund to provide farmers with low-interest loans of up to $250,000 to improve farm infrastructure and help farmers prepare for and deal with drought.
While local government bodies – including Bathurst Regional Council which last week announced a 50 per cent reduction in the price of water carted from the Hereford Street standpipe – have been doing their bit with far fewer resources, it has been a matter of wait and see what the state might offer.
And with an election just over nine months away, it wasn’t only drought-stricken farmers who were starting to get worried.
The state’s National MPs must have also been concerned about when announcement might finally come.
With the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party promising to target regional seats held by the Nationals in the lead-up to the election, any apparent lack of action on the drought from the Coalition Government was only going to help their case.
If we haven’t seen meaningful rain across the state by the time the election campaign hits full swing later this year, you can be sure SFF candidates will be promising the world to voters in drought-stricken regions, confident that they will not be in power and have to deliver after March 2019.
And when the grass is greener, and particularly during a drought, it would not surprise anyone to see large blocs of rural votes diverted towards the SFF if the government’s drought assistance was deemed to be inadequate.
And that’s why Wednesday’s announcements were made as much with an eye on the ballot box as an eye on the wide brown land that is now most of NSW west of the Great Dividing Range.
Only time will tell if any SFF can emulate Phil Donato’s success in winning another seat away from the Nationals, but the government cannot afford to take the threat lightly.
On Wednesday we saw a rich, but overdue, down-payment on electoral success.
There will need to be a few more instalments from the government between now and March, though.