Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a cabinet meeting at Parliament House in Canberra.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a cabinet meeting at Parliament House in Canberra.

Stopping drought like stopping boats: PM

SCOTT Morrison has revealed he will tackle Australia's stubborn and challenging drought the same way he stopped the boats through Operation Sovereign Borders.

The new Prime Minister lambasted the red-tape nightmare for farmers, who have to spend at least seven hours filling out forms just to get help to put food on their table.

The language used by "ScoMo" also signals a Prime Minister who will spend more time talking about families - a signature of former prime minister John Howard.

Some conservatives lamented that during former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull's 2016 election launch, he did not mention "families" once in his speech.

And in a "stroke of genius" - in the view of some federal Coalition MPs - Mr Morrison has given former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce back his travel wings, which were clipped when he resigned as deputy, ending his wide-ranging taxpayer-funded travel entitlements.

By becoming Australia's drought envoy, Mr Joyce can now freely travel across the country to talk about the dry conditions, simultaneously sandbagging regional seats that listen to arguably the Nationals' greatest retail politician.

After a gruelling day in outback Queensland on Monday, Mr Morrison - who returned to Canberra by plane for further talks - had a clearer view on how and his national drought co-ordinator Major General Stephen Day would help keep farmers on the land.

 

 

"This task, I think, is not different to the boats task,'' Mr Morrison said.

"The boats task was a management task, at the end of the day, because what you had to do was to get all different parts of the government to just do what they were told for one purpose."

He said Major Day's job would be to put forward a plan to ensure the Commonwealth, the states and the not-for-profit sector worked in the same direction.

He said one of the early wins would be changing how families applied for the Farm Household Allowance, which was extended from three to four years earlier this year by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.

The fortnightly payment is dependent on income and assets but is generally about $15,000 a year.

The cash helps farmers put food on the table or diesel in the tractor while parched paddocks fail to grow crops or feed cattle.

"The Farm Household Allowance is frustrating the hell out of them … taking seven hours to fill out 18 pages of forms for a family of four with a financial counsellor,'' Mr Morrison said.

 

Asked why it takes so long, Mr Morrison said: "I'm going to find out, and I'm going to fix it, and so is Stephen Day.

"I said to Stephen Day that is an early, easy get.

"They are handfeeding calves, and (the calves) are crying out, and they have to go feed them and (instead) they're filling out forms."

Mr Morrison said farmers told him they were able to dig in because of the support of family and strong communities.

"I wanted to know how they survived it and seeing those farmers … I was asking them how have you guys stuck it out, stayed together? And it's all the obvious answers. They said, 'We looked after each other. We talk to each other'."

He also expanded on his early views on how to help farmers, who are given financial assistance for boarding school fees but not school fees. He pointed out that they do not get assistance for school fees and that "their kids should be able to go to as good schools as my kids".

Later this week, Mr Morrison is set to leave on his first overseas visit to Jakarta, to stress the importance of Australia's relationship with Indonesia and conduct free trade talks with President Joko Widodo.