The Morrison government's much-trumpeted spend of more than $7 billion for drought relief has come under fire, with a Labor senator accusing senior ministers of lying.
Opposition frontbencher Murray Watt grilled Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie over the drought response during a heated Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Tuesday.
The majority of the $7 billion comes from the Future Drought Fund, a $3.9 billion drought-proofing kitty which is expected to rise to $5 billion in 2028/29.
It will pay $100 million a year from drought resilience projects from next financial year.
Another $1 billion is available in loans through the Regional Investment Corporation.
Senator Watt said the true figure of what the government was spending on drought response was closer to $2 billion.
"You are lying to people about what your government is doing for drought," he told the minister.
He said Prime Minister Scott Morrison and senior colleagues were being "highly misleading" for using a figure that wouldn't be reached for 10 years.
In a tense exchange, Senator McKenzie emphatically rejected suggestions the government was misleading farmers by including future commitments.
"The cost to the budget is as outlined, so if you want to argue the toss ... that's how much it costs," she said.
She said the fund would responsibly put away money to make sure drought resilience was built each year to help farmers and communities.
"It's not about coming up with a tip truck, dumping a load of cash."
Agriculture Department secretary Daryl Quinlivan also defended the figure, saying it was accurate because the government had planned to forgo revenue in future budgets.
He said talking about provisional costs to the budget was very common.
Under questioning from Labor senator Glenn Sterle, Mr Quinlivan confirmed the $7 billion figure was about future commitments.
"If you're asking is there $7 billion in cash from that fund being injected into drought communities now, well clearly the answer is not, because that's not the purpose of the fund," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Morrison told parliament a report by drought co-ordinator Major General Stephen Day and the government's response would be released soon.
The prime minister also revealed he would meet with the National Farmers' Federation, which recently released a proposed drought plan.
However he rejected Labor leader Anthony Albanese's call for a bipartisan drought "war cabinet".
"I think it's important that we will continue to consult widely," he said.
Australian Associated Press