CANBERRA, Australia, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Drought-stricken Australian farms are to receive an additional $714 million in federal aid during the next two years.
The new aid package announced Tuesday is on top of $430 million in federal financial relief announced last week by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
"These people are in a desperate situation," Howard said. "They're the heart and soul of our rural communities and we've got to help them."
Howard dismissed critics who said the relief package was timed to win rural votes in an upcoming election. "Anybody who thinks that this is a pre-election ploy is pathetic," Howard said.
Many farmers face selling their land and leaving farming altogether as the drought worsens, said Ben Fargher, a spokesman for the National Farmers Federation.
"We have moved out of a serious drought into a crisis in many regions around our country," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.