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Aust to be officially free of drought

Australia will be officially drought-free for the first time in more than a decade from Monday.

The declaration coincides with the end of ''exceptional circumstances'' subsidies in Bundarra and Eurobodalla in NSW, leaving no part of the country officially ''in drought''.

But the announcement by federal Agricultural Minister Joe Ludwig is bitter-sweet for farmers who have lashed out at the Commonwealth's plan to end the exceptional circumstances interest rate subsidy.

''Now is the time to progress drought reform,'' Senator Ludwig said.

''We need to take this opportunity to transition from reacting to crises, to a proactive policy approach that prepares our farmers for the future.

''A major step toward that framework will be phasing out the exceptional circumstances interest rate subsidy, which given the end of the final two EC declarations, will conclude on June 30 this year.''

The NSW Farmers Association said it was premature for the federal government to make decisions about drought policy when it was being reviewed by farmers' peak bodies and state governments.

''Ministers and peak bodies like us are reviewing the drought policy in good faith,'' association president Fiona Simson said. ''If the government is going to make decisions and announce results outside of that process, it gives us little faith in the value and meaning of the consultative process.''

The National Farmers' Federation said the government's ''snap decision'' to cut interest rate subsidies was ''baffling''.

''With no areas likely to be drought-declared in the near future and with a program to develop alternatives already under way, we ask the question of government, 'Why the rush?','' federation president Jock Laurie said. ''There's no doubt that the decision to move to an improved drought policy is the right one - after all, the NFF has been driving this for many years.''

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