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Far north coast disaster-funding furore

Friday March 15, 2013 - 10:20 EDT

The Australian Macadamia Society is demanding an explanation from the State Government about applications for Commonwealth flood-assistance funding.

Chief executive Jolyon Burnett says so far only the Clarence Valley has been considered for category-C assistance in the wake of the January storms.

He says the problems are far more widespread, with macadamia farms across the region facing a damage and clean-up bill of $20-million.

Mr Burnett says he's not satisfied with the explanations he's received so far.

"We've been told by Don Page's office that it's the Federal Government's fault, that they keep changing the threshold for this," he said.

"What's profoundly disappointing is that in QLD, the Department of Agriculture got together with industry bodies, with local members, and put a very quick and very convincing case to the Federal Government."

But the Ballina MP and Minister for the North Coast says the Federal Government needs to take a more flexible approach to disaster-relief funding.

Don Page says criticism of the State Government for not applying for category-C grants in some local government areas is unfair.

Mr Page says the rules need to be changed to take into account the extraordinary recent weather.

"The criterior require each event to be treated separately, and we had two events," he said.

"If we can keep those together as one event, then we can possibly meet the criterior.

"That's what's happening at the moment, we're trying to get all the information from both the events, just after Australia Day and the middle of February."

The federal member for Page says a lack of DPI staff on the north coast might be hindering the application process.

Janelle Saffin says she damage done by the first storm, in January, was extensive.

"The criterior (is) 30 per cent area affected, 20 per cent loss," she said.

"On the face of it, the macadamias just reached that anyway when you look at the huge loss right across our areas.

"You look at the industries together... and you aggregate them, you know it's there."

Meanwhile, the Clarence Valley Council says it wants changes to the eligibility criteria for flood assistance.

Mayor Richie Williamson says even if the category-C application is approved, some primary producers will miss out on the $15,000 grants.

He says years of flooding have made it impossible for farmers to survive without other sources of income.

"There are some problems around if there is over 51 per cent of off-farm income, that you are not eligible," he said.

"So we believe, and I believe, that we need some exceptional circumstances to be granted because there are a number of primary producers doing it particularly tough at this time.

"The problem is that because of the six floods in four years, if you don't have off-farm income, you simply wouldn't have a farm."

The independent federal member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, is again calling for an overhaul of Australia's natural-disaster assistance processes.

He says poor communication between the Federal and State Governments is an ongoing problem, and it's not fair on those waiting for help.

"This is a frustration in natural disaster planning that comes every time after there's a flood or fire or an incident of some sort," he said.

"It's got to be improved, and we really do need to find a new way to get assistance quickly and to those most in need, on the back of natural disaster incidents."


© ABC 2013

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