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Farmers 'insulted' and feel ignored by Victorian Government's latest drought assistance

Isabella Pittaway, Friday February 22, 2019 - 15:33 EDT
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Paddocks are dry and dusty across much of Central and East Gippsland in Victoria. - ABC

Farmers are disappointed and say Victoria's Agriculture Minister is "naive" and "out of touch" as she announced additional drought relief for the state's farmers, which excludes municipal rate relief.



Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes announced a $13-million assistance package for drought-affected farmers across Central and East Gippsland and northern Victoria.

The package includes payments of up to $3,500 for young farmers and farmers receiving the Farm Household Allowance in Central and East Gippsland.

All other farmers are entitled to payments of up to $2,500.



An additional $1 million will be provided across the state to improve water supply access for stock and domestic water users.

An extra $5 million will also go towards the drought infrastructure program.

Giffard farmer Steve Harrison said it was disappointing rate relief had not been included after a year of farmers requesting it because they saw it as the most equitable option.

"At least we did get some money, but unfortunately $2,500 for eligible farmers is way off the mark," he said.

"Most people have rate bills in excess of $20,000, feed bills in excess of $20,000 a month, it's pretty simple to do the sums.

"Unfortunately the Minister is new to the role and whoever suggested to her that rain will end the drought is naive."



Mr Harrison said farmers had heavily destocked, had been hand-feeding for nearly two years and were battling record feed prices.

"In our case [we destocked] from 10,000 sheep plus cattle to just 4,000 bare minimum sheep," he said.

"All of a sudden the money's running out and feed's got expensive — some started off at $300 a tonne and now it's $600.

"Here in Gippsland we also have a freight component, which is also adding to the cost of feeding."

Gippsland the forgotten drought



Mr Harrison said the region has continued to be ignored by the Victorian Government especially when compared to the $1.3 billion in funding the New South Wales Government had provided to farmers.

"Certainly we have been forgotten. No disrespect to NSW and their drought but we're just as bad. We're in the same situation as them," he said.

"To suggest that the drought isn't as bad as NSW is very disappointing and goes to show how out of touch [the Government] can be.

"It's disappointing that we don't get the same amount of local funding from Government as they do."

Pearsondale farmer Angus Zilm said it was ridiculous that the Victorian Government had disregarded what farmers had requested.

"I am so disappointed that the State Government has missed the plot and have announced a couple of measly dollar cash payments," he said.

"It does not wash with me. Will I apply? No. In fact, I probably won't because I think it's just an insult."

Government defends $3,500 grants

Ms Symes said the package was designed after looking at farmers' average rates bills.

"It's equivalent to about 30 per cent of the average municipal rates bills for farmers in these shires, but as I said, we wanted to make sure that farmers could choose where they directed the funding," she said.

"I honestly expect most will put it towards their rate bill but I didn't want to dictate that so this way the choice is theirs.



"It is an immediate cash injection."

The extra $13 million takes the Victorian Government's drought assistance package to about $40 million.

East Gippsland MP Tim Bull said farmers had told him the funding would provide little assistance.

"One fella tells me that's two days worth of feed, another one tells me that's $2,500 towards my $40,000 rate package," he said.

"Another one says to me that he's paid out over half a million [dollars] in feed since last May — $2,500 doesn't go far enough."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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