Drought reform could include concessional loans for farmers

A DROUGHT reform program under development by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce could yet include concessional loans.

Details of what specific measures are being considered following Mr Joyce's push for the package, which is expected to go to Cabinet in the next two weeks.

It also comes after Prime Minister Tony Abbott effectively endorsed an expansion of drought assistance, as long as it was "fiscally responsible", on Monday.

The package was a key point of discussion during a joint party room meeting in Canberra on Tuesday, with concessional loans likely to form part of the package.

While the Abbott Government is staying mum on the details, it is understood further income support measures and changes to the definitions of "exceptional circumstances" were also on the table.

Central Queensland MP George Christensen said while he and other Nationals were advocating for a rural development bank, such a proposal was a longer-term issue.

While he would not comment on internal discussions, he said the need was urgent across Queensland and some parts of New South Wales for a package to save producers from bankruptcy.

Mr Christensen said while he would still like to see a development bank to offer low-cost loans to producers, the more pressing issue was dealing with the current drought now.

Similarly, NSW Nationals Senator John Williams said he wanted the government to endorse an expansion of exceptional circumstances, particularly for livestock producers who were suffering in the drought.

Sen Williams said it was up to Mr Joyce and the Cabinet to decide what to do, but that the Nationals generally were behind any extra help that could be lent to farmers.

While the drought package seems likely to get up, other Nationals figures who asked not to be named, have confirmed a rising tide of opposition to Mr Abbott's paid parental leave scheme in the minor Coalition partner.

Sen Williams said his position against the $5.5 billion PPL was already on the record, but would not comment on any other internal talks about the scheme.

However, other party sources have confirmed a "strong and growing sentiment" against the scheme among both the Nationals and some rural Liberals.

They said there were a range of reasons not to support the scheme, hinting at potential for a stronger split within the Coalition over Mr Abbott's election pledge.

Those divisions come as the government is understood to be negotiating with The Greens to ensure the scheme's safe passage through parliament.



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