Push for drought assistance heads to Canberra

THE push for reforms to drought assistance for farmers across regional Queensland and New South Wales will head to Canberra as federal politicians return to the capital for parliamentary sittings this week.

Led by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and backed by Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and other senior Nationals, the push will likely be a point on contention in closed door party meetings on Tuesday.

Mr Joyce last week confirmed he would take a raft of proposals to improve drought assistance to Canberra, but could not confirm whether it would be considered by Cabinet this week.

With Monday's Cabinet meeting dominated by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's push for a Royal Commission into union funding, the drought issue has been pushed into the background, but remains a sticking point in government ranks.

Mr Abbott last week said the government would revisit income support for primary producers, but stopped short of endorsing a raft of reforms to improve drought assistance.

His comments were followed by Mr Truss describing the current drought as a "natural disaster of major proportions", calling on all governments, including his own, to respond.

However, Treasurer Joe Hockey - out to prove his economic credentials after being overruled on the Graincorp takeover last year - has pledged an end to the "age of entitlement", pushing arguments against welfare and government assistance for businesses or struggling farmers.

Mr Joyce, with the backing of the minor Coalition partner, is understood to be forming an overarching proposal for drought assistance reforms, with the specifics of the changes the key issue during The Nationals first party meeting in Bundaberg last week.

His push has highlighted the differences of opinion between the Coalition partners, and is yet to get the tick of approval from Mr Abbott, despite the Prime Minister's comments leaning towards some sort of enhanced help.

While Mr Joyce has argued the need for farmers - who are direct victims of the weather - to be granted exception to increasing fiscal constraints, this week will see the issue firmly on the agenda for Canberra.


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