Small businesses and communities are set for an immediate cash injection to keep businesses open, keep locals in work and keep economies vibrant.
Under the Federal Government’s ‘Drought Response, Resilience and Preparedness Plan’, a new raft of programs have been designed to increase investment in affected communities.
Edward River Council has already been promised an additional $1 million in funding through the Drought Communities Programme, on top of $1 million already allocated to the council earlier this year.
Council projects will also benefit from the increased funding being made available through the Roads to Recovery Program, and may also be eligible for further Building Better Regions Fund money for local projects.
The plan also extends support to businesses not specifically in the agricultural sector.
All small businesses are eligible for Small Business Drought Loans of up to $500,000, which are interest free for the first two of the 10 year term, and to access to a local financial counsellor for business planning, mentoring and coaching to improve their financial capability.
Deniliquin Business Chamber president Paula Rutter said it is a’’a good thing’’ that local businesses can access the same supporting loans available to farmers.
“Obviously all packages are about sustaining business through the drought so they can come out of the other end and continue business as usual,’’ she said.
‘‘Therefore, those businesses affected by drought and will become viable again, have a great opportunity to keep their head above water and pay their staff, refinance if needed and buy much needed equipment.
‘‘Communities will have another cash injection for playgrounds and anything to deliver any social and economic benefits to the community as a whole too. You may think that a green park is a waste of time, but imagine a farmer coming in to town from their dust bowl and just wanting to sit in the green park for a while.
‘‘Short term mental health and positivity is very important to keep the long term goals of everyone sustainable and so I am hopeful this will give a little spring in the step of local farmers, who will then get the confidence to keep buying from the local shops and the benefits to everyone will just have that flow on effect.
‘‘Remember, this is the time of the year that everyone can do something to help. Think local first and shop local for Christmas if you can.’’
Edward River Mayor Norm Brennan said while this additional support will not replace all lost opportunities as a result of drought, he said it does provide strong support to our farmers, businesses and local communities.
‘‘Council is committed to continuing to work with the federal and state governments to ensure every support possible is provided to our community,’’ he said.
Council’s first allocation under the Drought Communities Programme has been allocated to six projects, and has already started being spent in the community.
The projects are:
? $200,000 for the Crispe St town entrance project.
? $100,000 for the Davidson St town entrance project
? $250,000 for Harfleur and Wyatt St road upgrades.
? $100,000 for the recruitment of a drought support officer for a six-month period to coordinate delivery of the projects.
? $50,000 for the Visit Deni campaign.
? $100,000 for a painting program in the Deniliquin CBD.
Cr Brennan said the best uses for the next $1 million, and other funding opportunities for council, would be discussed next month.
‘‘Council will have a discussion at our December workshop to determine an initial list of projects. Following this discussion the next steps will be determined and we will keep the community informed.
‘‘The Drought Package has also allocated additional funding to the Roads to Recovery Program and while the amount of funding that council will receive through this program is not yet confirmed, council will receive further funding through this program.
‘‘Finally, the Drought Package has also re-allocated funding from the Building Better Regions Fund. Our understanding is that this will provide a competitive grants program that council can apply for funding through.’’
While Federal Nationals Senator for NSW Perin Davey says ‘‘extending our loans program to small agricultural businesses, as well as further funding for infrastructure projects and road upgrades in drought-impacted communities, will help stimulate economy activity in those communities’’, NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton is septical of the package.
‘‘Once again, the focus is on loans, not cash grants,’’ Mrs Dalton said.
‘‘Loans will just drive farmers further into debt. They don’t solve the problem.’’
The biggest win in the Commonwealth’s plan is 100 gigalitres of water being made available to Murray Valley farmers at a discounted rate to grow fodder, silage and pasture.
Murray Irrigation CEO Phil Endley said it;s still too early to comment on the impact this will have locally.
‘‘Murray Irrigation is awaiting further information on the package to determine the effect it will have on the farmers in the Southern Riverina,’’ he said.
‘‘We hope the package will result in more productive water being distributed to our farmers, which will have long reaching benefits for all residents across our footprint.’’
The water is expected to be made available from December, and until at least April.