The last time I applied for drought assistance


I was scared. The earth was scorched bare, cockchafers had decimated our paddocks and feed was at record prices. I’d been brought up on the land but was new to the experience of actually holding the reins.

I didn’t want to let my husband know how scared I was, either. He was new to farming altogether and we were betting everything we had on my skills, our sweat, the international commodity price cycle and the weather.

When we became eligible to apply for exceptional circumstances funding, I sought guidance from a Rural Financial Counsellor then locked myself in the office for two long days and sweated over the paperwork.

The first envelope in return said my application had been rejected because I was not a farmer. I was, and still am, earning some off-farm income to feed the family and the assessing officer had decided that, since I would naturally be working 38 hours a week in total, and I was clearly spending time non-farming, I was not farming at all. The reality was that I was working into the small hours to survive. After a lot of persuasion and quoting industry statistics, he conceded that, yes, perhaps I was a farmer.

The next envelope said my application had been rejected because our farm was unviable. He told me I had to show we could pay back all our loans in 10 years as well as achieving an 8% return on investment to prove my viability. My bank manager just laughed when I told him. “I don’t think of any of my clients could achieve all that,” he said.

I gave up.

Why am I telling you all this? Because there are a whole lot of people out there under the impression that drought aid is dished out like boiled lollies. Maybe I went about it the wrong way. Maybe I hit a particularly tough assessor having a tough time. But don’t tell me it’s easy pickings.

8 thoughts on “The last time I applied for drought assistance

  1. Next time get in touch with your nearest Rural Financial Counsellor, those fantastic people have awesome paperwork skills.
    Having said that, I hope you don’t have to try again anytime soon.
    It’s pretty hard for most farmers to meet the criteria depending on how they have set up their retirement savings.
    But as we always say: “Never Self Assess!” you won’t have a chance if you don’t try.


  2. Marian
    Somehow the ‘narrative’ has to change.
    Drought support/assistance is not well explained. Household assistance, FMD’s, TFFP’s, ECRP’s, etc just don’t get explained to city folk. It translates into, ‘Hey, it didn’t rain so farmers are getting taxpayers’ money’.

    It doesn’t need to be like this. Explained properly, the support for farmers makes perfect sense both socially and economically. Problem is that Barnaby going red in the face isn’t really helping to explain things. Would be great if the NFF employed some professional communicators to get the message across.

    (one caveat – at some stage we need to have a discussion as a country about areas of Australia that probably shouldn’t never have been farmed and what climate change will do to farming viability in the next 50 years, but this is a different discussion)


    • Ian,

      By the way some of us in the city know well what farmers go through but I agree it is not presented or well understood in the general community at large. Worse still those that tout some form of support for the farming community don’t tailor their offering to address the unique challenges of farming in this country. Marian’s request for drought assistance is a classic example.

      That “one caveat” is one very large horrendous discussion that very few would want to take on. Individuals would be vilified, companies would be blacklisted, politicians would soon become opposition. It is steeped in history going back along way and generations of families would align themselves to the argument they prefer. However a topic you could tackle is “where to from here” – grain, dairy, beef and sugar are here to stay in some form, sheep is marginal, aqua is undeveloped and cotton and rice really test water reserves. The rest are second tier or unrealised new markets and can exist in certain parts of the country. I have held the long view that the various farming communities including handlers and processors need to use a modern version of a co-op to survive. Two good local examples are CBH as it is in the right financial and market position and MG as it is trying to put the structure in place. This works well where a processor is required before product can go to market for capital costs and value add reasons but doesn’t work so well for primary produce export unless a major exporter drive the co-op. These should be aligned to where the high yield farm produce comes from and this is where the country and its features are a major determinant of the produce in the region.


  3. Well said blog Marian. Never applied for aid myself but had the impression it was very hard to qualify for. And some of those that do qualify for those low interest loans sometimes on offer, in the past, have probably just been helped to dig a deeper hole for themselves. Agree with commenters points above – some excellent points made. In summary: we all want the same thing – a healthy, happy society. 1. everyone who genuinely needs assistance should receive some help to get them back on their feet (not just farmers or Holden employees, etc) and 2. Smart governments help people to help themselves. Classic fail example, in this regard? State governments taxing people who take out insurance policies.


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