SUNDAY 3pm: Prime Minister Tony Abbott has seen the devastation the drought is causing in western NSW but he is yet to announce any federal government assistance for struggling farmers.
Mr Abbott, federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Parkes MP Mark Coulton encountered rain as they talked to farmers in Bourke hit hard by the drought.
However the Prime Minister recognised that one wet day doesn't mean the drought is over and he indicated a package could be announced when parliament resumes next week.
"Today is good soaking rain. It doesn't mean the drought is over but nevertheless it is very encouraging and very hopeful," he said as the rain began to fall at Phil and Di Ridge's 40,000-hectare property Jandra, near Bourke.
"It takes time to recover from a period of intense drought and that's why it's important that whatever might happen in the next few days and weeks, that there is a significant drought adopted by the government, that's what will happen."
While treasurer Joe Hockey has shown reluctance to assist industries that have been doing it tough, including car manufacturer and food production, Mr Abbott said the government would respond to the drought in a way that was "fair and responsible".
He said despite the best intentions, sometimes it is impossible for farmers to prepare for drought.
"Drought is for farmers what flood and fire are for people in other parts of the economy. It's a natural disaster.
"If you are a good farmer you factor a certain amount of drought into your ordinary business plan but occasionally you get hit by a drought which is not routine, it's something that happens every 20 or 50 years, in the same way you get a once in 20 or 50 years flood."
"The important thing is that we get an intelligent response to the problem of drought which is fair and responsible and that is what the government intends to put in place fairly swiftly."
Mr Joyce said he was pleased to get the Prime Minister out to the worst affected areas and he said farmers need financial assistance because the drought had longer than farmers could reasonably be expected to manage themselves.
"Two years you should try to manage it yourself but in any other organisation they would say after two years without any money it's not possible. After that you can't have a business plan where you are managing," he said.
SUNDAY 10am: Tony Abbott's tour of drought-hit inland Australia got off to a sodden start when a heavy rain storm hit just as the Prime Minister began addressing a crowd of graziers in a sheep shed outside Bourke.
Mr Abbott and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce had just inspected the Jandra station about 30 minutes outside the north-western NSW town to view forlorn cattle chewing donated feed near a depleted pond.
Here's Barnaby after pulling out bogged utes in welcome rain at Bourke today. pic.twitter.com/3oG5KY0TRz— Barnaby Joyce (@Barnaby_Joyce) February 16, 2014
Visiting the nearby sheep shed to meet locals to discuss the drought conditions, light rain quickly turned into a serious downpour.
Phillip Ridge, the owner of Jandra, said politicians like Mr Abbott and Mr Joyce should visit more often if they bring relief. Even so, the region had been desperately dry for almost two years and would need follow up rain soon if the area is to recover.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has gone bush, touring drought-affected areas to see first-hand the impacts of the drought on farmers.
His first stop, was Bourke, in western NSW, where he arrived around 8.30am.
There he's expected to speak with farmers and local leaders about "what's happening on their properties and in their communities".
Joining Mr Abbott will be Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who has been publicly lobbying for more drought assistance for farmers, and who is preparing a cabinet submission on more help for struggling rural communities.
Mr Abbott earlier signalled the government will expand its drought relief for farmers, who have been battling worsening drought conditions.
Seventy per cent of Queensland and 52 per cent of NSW is now in drought.
Late on Saturday, Mr Abbott released a YouTube clip telling Australians he wanted to see the impact of the drought for himself.
"This hasn't just been a dry summer, it's been a dry couple of years," Mr Abbott said. "Much of inland Queensland and inland NSW, as well as parts of Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia are experiencing very dry conditions indeed.
"I've read the letters and emails that country people have sent me and I want to see for myself what's needed to help our regional communities to respond to this drought because the government response must be targeted, effective and not caught up in red tape," he said.
"I know that more needs to be done – and it will be done, in a way that's fair and fiscally responsible."
January rainfall was very much below average across much of northern and western Queensland as well as along the east coast and adjacent inland from Rockhampton to southern Victoria.
The weather bureau says most of Queensland west of the ranges, northern NSW, north-eastern South Australia and the south-eastern Northern Territory has received less than 65 per cent of the long-term average rainfall during the past 16 months.
In his video, Mr Abbott claimed the ongoing drought illustrated the need to abolish the carbon tax.
"Drought is a big hit on local economies – that's another reason we have to get taxes down and business costs down," the prime minister said.
"It's another reason why we've got to get rid of the carbon tax. By scrapping the carbon tax we'll get electricity and gas bills down and that'll make life easier for families across Australia, including in drought hit areas.
I am determined to give regional Australia the support you need to face this challenge."