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NSW Government scraps red tape to help drought-affected communities

Regional communities across New South Wales (NSW) will be able to upgrade and build new water infrastructure “faster than ever” with Premier Gladys Berejiklian announcing a suite of changes to the Government’s Safe and Secure Water program.

The $1 billion scheme was established in 2017 to fund water and sewerage projects in regional NSW. Funding is available to local councils, local water utilities, water corporations and dam owners.

Berejiklian said the Government had reformed the program to provide help to rural communities as quickly as possible.

This includes prioritising the highest risk areas across the state and working directly with local councils rather than requiring them to go through an expensive and time-consuming application process.

“Our focus now is on future-proofing the state – not just farmers but also the regional communities that rely on them,” Berejiklian said.

“We want to see our farmers through this drought, we want to see them through recovery but we also want to make sure we have the best infrastructure in place to prepare communities for future drought.”

Projects that have been approved under the Safe and Secure Water program so far include: replacing an ageing sewerage treatment plant in Junee; constructing a new water treatment plant at Crescent Head; and upgrading a water treatment plant in Manilla.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Water Niall Blair said slashing red tape around the program would make it easier for communities to access funding for critical water infrastructure projects such as these.

“Every community deserves access to reliable and high quality water and this program ensures that communities can reach their full potential,” Blair said.

“We are cutting red tape and streamlining the approvals process for this funding so councils have access to funding for critical water infrastructure when they need it.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has expanded its drought assistance efforts, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the establishment of a Future Drought Fund last week.

This will fund water infrastructure and drought resilience projects. It will be given an initial $3.9 billion injection and will grow to $5 billion by 2028.

“This funding will support farmers and their local communities when it’s not raining,” Morrison said.

“The challenges of drought vary from farm to farm, district to district, town to town and we continually need to adapt and build capacity – the Future Drought Fund gives us this opportunity.”

Morrison also announced a $50 million program to provide financial assistance to primary producers in drought-affected regions.

Under the On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme, the Government will cover up to 25% of the cost of new on-farm water infrastructure that provides water for livestock. This includes piping, tanks, bores, troughs, pumps and fittings and desilting.

The Future Drought Fund was announced at a national drought summit in Canberra, which brought together State and Federal Governments, climate experts, farming and agricultural representatives, and community and charity groups.