Weather News

Cyclone-hit banana farmers say they requested wage subsidies in March, contrary to Mark Furner's comments

By Tom Major, Friday April 16, 2021 - 02:15 EST
ABC image
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner visited damaged banana plantations in the Innisfail region soon after the recent storms. - ABC

A disaster-hit grower who hosted Agriculture Minister Mark Furner on his flattened banana farm says the MP's claims he was unaware of requests for wage subsidies are wrong.

Speaking at a strawberry farm near the Sunshine Coast on Wednesday, Mr Furner told the Country Hour he had not heard the call for wage subsidies from growers.

"I haven't heard that from the Australian Banana Growers' Association, but [I am] willing to have a dialogue with them on those sorts of initiatives," he said. 

But Innisfail district grower Bernie Devaney, who lost 95 per cent of his crop on March 1 in freak winds associated with Cyclone Niran, said that statement was wrong.

"He came onto our farm here with a contingent of people," Mr Devaney said.

"That's exactly what we discussed. We're not looking for a hand-out. We're just looking for a wage subsidy."

Mr Devaney said at an earlier meeting with federal minister David Littleproud a wage subsidy was also discussed.

"Fifty per cent of your cost is wages. The most important thing for us on this farm was trying to access a wage subsidy similar to what was given after Larry and after Yasi," he said. 

Growers' council 'baffled'

A letter sent from the Australian Banana Growers' Council (ABGC) dated March 8 has been provided to the ABC, in which chairman Stephen Lowe requests wage assistance be offered.

"The ABGC is also hopeful of working further with the government to provide some form of wage subsidy assistance to these worst-affected growers in order to assist them to retain workers, which are already in critically short supply due to COVID," the letter reads.

An ABGC spokeswoman said it was "baffled" by the claim Mr Furner made that he had not heard the calls for action on a wage subsidy.

The spokeswoman pointed to phone calls from chief executive Jim Pekin, media releases and interviews in addition to public calls to Mr Littleproud for the same assistance.

In a statement, a spokesman for Mr Furner confirmed the minister's office received the ABGC letter in March seeking support for growers in the wake of Cyclone Niran.

The statement said Mr Furner's office responded, advising that the state government was working with the Commonwealth to activate Category C assistance under the joint federal-state disaster recovery funding arrangements, and noted the council was working with appropriate agencies on the matter of wage subsidies.

Wage scheme publicised

Mr Devaney said ABGC chairman Mr Lowe appeared on Channel 10 soon after the destruction, during which he called for a scheme similar to that offered to Qantas to retain JobKeeper access.

"[Qantas help] was sort of announced prior to Stephen [Lowe] going on national television. That was his main thrust point, to say, 'What we're chasing is a wage subsidy similar to what the government's going to provide for Qantas with long-haul pilots,'" he said.

In a statement, Federal Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said the issue of a wage subsidy, in preference to grants, was raised with him personally when he visited the affected farmers.

Mr Littleproud said he explained that Disaster Recovery Arrangements did not cover such support, but he had requested the primary support payment be lifted from $25,000 to $75,000.

A decision on the Queensland premier's request for $75,000 grants is awaiting approval by the Prime Minister.


© ABC 2021

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Icy weather looms for Tasmania

13:24 EST

A flurry of cold fronts is about to send surges of wintry weather across Tasmania, resulting in blustery showers and low-level snow.

Warming is clearly visible in new US 'climate normal' datasets

12:43 EST

Anyone who listens to weather reports has heard meteorologists comment that yesterday's temperature was 3 degrees above normal, or last month was much drier than normal.

Get a sneak peak into the new Weatherzone Beta website experience while we continue to build out its full functionality.
Explore new datasets, map layers, 7-day charts, 12-month trends and much more!