Barnaby Joyce wants the bush to do its bit to fix the budget
IF you thought times were tough in the bush, prepare to suck in that tummy further, as that belt, already at its tightest, is going to have to give a little more.
Regional and rural areas, already disadvantaged by a poorer economic outlook, fewer health and education facilities, cruel weather conditions, lower incomes as well as distance and isolation, can expect things to get worse before they get better.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, spruiking the contentious budget measures the government is hoping to get through the Senate this week, is of the opinion that we should all be willing to do our bit, whether we like it or not.
"If you're trying to turn the finances of our nation around, there are going to be hard decisions to be made and if we don't, we go broke," Mr Joyce said on ABC radio.
"If we don't turn it around, then that is just basically being completely and utterly irresponsible because in five or 10 or 15 years' time, the chickens will come home to roost."
Farmers, especially those in drought-affected areas, will find little welcome for those words. Assistance packages - $280 million in concessional loans for farmers in drought-declared areas and $420 million from the farm finance scheme open to all farmers in need - are by all accounts slow to trickle through.
The minister will guarantee that funding will be delivered but should the need grow, he is almost powerless to act unless he can persuade Treasurer Joe Hockey to part with the cash.
"My job is to do my very best to try and keep them on the land, but I'm doing it with the current budget constraints," Mr Joyce said.
"The fact is that when the only money we have is borrowed money, it's a lot harder game than doing it with money that you've got in the bank."
The reality is that aid for our farmers is way down a list of priorities headed by health, security and education. In fact Australian farmers receive the lowest amount of support of any of the OECD countries with our agricultural sector as a whole getting one of the lowest levels of support in the world.
Next week the minister will meet with cattle farmers from North Queensland who say that the banks have been too inflexible when it comes to loans and debt but if Mr Barnaby can be an affective force remains to be seen.
It is highly likely that he will be able to do nothing at all except to beg the ear of his colleague Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who himself is unlikely to step in to chastise financial the institutions largely because of the precedent it would set for other businesses in trouble.
But farmers are not alone in their troubles. Medical and social welfare groups have warned that the $7 GP co-payment and the deregulation of the university sector could put rural and regional Australians at risk as these services could become unaffordable to access.
But Mr Joyce said it was no longer possible to ignore our "financial melanoma" as it would "kill".
"Now the only way you can fix it, is to fix it early, this is our first budget, I understand the concerns people have, I fully understand them, but what is our alternative?" he said.
- APN Newsdesk