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Victorian government's $5m drought package leaves Gippsland farmers wanting

Isabella Pittaway, Wednesday September 12, 2018 - 11:17 EST
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Chris Nixon, pictured at his Tonghi Creek property. - ABC licensed

Victorian farmers wanting freight or rate subsidies will be left disappointed with the State Government's $5 million drought support package.

The package includes $1.4 million for drought infrastructure grants for stock containment and an extra $400,000 for the rural financial counselling service.

The government has also allocated $1.2 million for a drought employment program to give people the opportunity to earn an income off-farm.

Orbost beef and dairy farmer Chris Nixon has described the measures, which come ahead of an election in November, as tokenistic.

"The real issue is the fact we don't have fodder in East Gippsland and the real issue is that we're trying to compete against New South Wales and Queensland," Mr Nixon said.

"NSW have got a billion dollars in subsidies and we're trying to compete against them and the playing field is definitely not fair or level.

"On the one hand they've recognised [the drought] is an issue, that's a start, but other than that it's tokenism running into the state election, to be quite frank."

Mr Nixon said while more funding for rural financial counselling services is welcome, the package will not go far in helping farmers.

'They don't work': freight subsidies not on offer

Many farmers have called for freight subsidies to help cover the cost of transporting fodder for livestock.

In late July the New South Wales government announced $1 billion dollars in drought funds, including $190 million for transport subsidies.

But Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said freight subsidies are not part of their package because she doesn't believe they work.

"They don't provide support to the people who need it," Ms Pulford said.

"So I know the NSW government [has] taken a different approach, and the consequence of that was to just push prices up.

"I'm not thinking about what best for New South Wales transport operators which is where those subsidies go."

The government will also spend $500,000 creating two drought co-ordinator positions: one in Wellington Shire and one in East Gippsland.

"They will coordinate between local, state and federal governments," Ms Pulford said.

"These are important jobs because they sit in the middle of all the activity and make sure there's no duplication of effort.

"They will liaise with some of the charities that are active and will become a central point of contact with the Victorian Farmers Federation."

Minister says region has only been in drought for 'weeks'

Ms Pulford claims East Gippsland has only been in drought for less than a month.

This is at odds with the view of the Federal Government, which classified the region as in drought last year, because it is facing a one in 20 year rainfall deficiency.

That is the marker that allows farmers to apply for federal drought assistance.

Ms Pulford said the Victorian government uses a different definition.

"[We use] two failed seasons and a number of financial and other indicators marking distress," she said.

"So we have been describing East Gippsland conditions as drought for about three weeks."

Mr Nixon said the region was in drought by the end of spring last year.

"I would say the minister trying to cover her tracks because they've been left found wanting in this area," he said.

"We need proper recognition that the playing field's not level and fodder is incredibly hard to source.

"It's nearly dearer to come to East Gippsland from the west of the state then it is to get hay up to Queensland."


© ABC 2018

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