Rural relief package possible, says Key

4:24 pm on 8 September 2010

The Government will consider a rural relief economic package if it is needed, says Prime Minister John Key.

But he says it is likely that hardship grants will be all that are required.

Mr Key visited quake-damaged farms and rural towns on Wednesday morning with Agricultural Minister David Carter and local MPs.

He says it is difficult for farmers to assess what damage has been done because a lot of irrigation systems and pipes are below ground.

Latest estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry suggest as many as 400 farms are affected, more than 100 of them severely.

Meanwhile, the National Bank, the country's biggest rural lender, has announced a support package for its rural customers.

Rural managing director Charlie Graham says 26 rural managers are checking on farmers in the quake areas and offering support as clean-up and rebuilding work begins.

He says they are offering to speed through loans, emergency short-term lending, interest-free overdraft limits and ready access to credit to get rural operations back up and running.

Mr Graham believes the biggest impact of the quake will be on water bores and irrigation systems.

Income support scheme

Mr Key has not ruled out the inclusion of bigger companies in an income support scheme for employees in Canterbury if they need assistance later on.

Help is being offered to businesses with fewer than 20 employees, which are struggling to cope in the aftermath of Saturday's earthquake.

Employees will get a subsidy of $350 a week before tax, backdated to 4 September, the day of the earthquake.

Initially, the subsidy will be paid up for four weeks and small businesses can apply again after that if they are still unable to operate.

Mr Key says larger businesses should get in contact with the Chamber of Commerce.

Eligible employers can apply to the scheme from Thursday and the Government says payments will be made within 24 hours.

The Council of Trade Unions says more will need to be done. Secretary Peter Conway told says more support packages will inevitably need to be provided.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says farming operations are eligible for the Government's wage support package too.

However, Mr Brownlee says there seems to be some confusion between Selwyn district council and farmers as to how many of them have been affected and how badly.