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Drought assistance allocation under review as council seeks to reject $1m funding

By regional affairs reporter Lucy Barbour, Monday September 30, 2019 - 15:28 EST
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Lush green grass dominates the landscape in south-west Victoria. - ABC

A regional Victorian council looks set to reject the chance to receive $1 million in drought relief as the Federal Government is forced to review the way it hands out support funding.

Moyne Shire Council Mayor Mick Wolfe told the ABC if it was his decision alone, he would refuse the money because he does not think the region is in drought.

"Our council has never applied for funding under this drought package or any other similar program of drought-assistance funding," he said.

The Federal Government's latest drought package includes grants of , under the Community Drought Support Program.

Councils deemed eligible can apply for the grants and the money can be spent on anything from local infrastructure to drought relief projects.

Previously, councils have put it towards bike paths and car parks, to help stimulate local economies.

Moyne Shire — a high rainfall area in south-west Victoria — is on the Government's most recent list of eligible local government areas.

The local government funding was part of $100 million in new drought commitments Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday, immediately after he returned from a week in the United States.

But Moyne Shire councillors will meet tomorrow to decide whether or not to accept the grant, with .

The Department of Infrastructure allocates the grants based on rainfall deficiency, the proportion of people working in farming, fishing and forestry, and the value of agricultural commodities.

The rainfall data used for the most recent funding round covered the two-year period until the end of June.

The Moyne shire experienced very dry conditions and had a late autumn break. But since then, there has been plenty of rain.

Dairy farmer Brian McLaren, from Woolsthorpe in south-west Victoria, said he had one of his best starts to spring.

"You couldn't script it better," he said.

Mr McLaren lamented the move to offer his shire drought funding, while other parts of the country continued to be ravaged by relentless dry conditions.

"It just shouldn't happen and the person that made it happen needs to be rapped over the knuckles. It's absolute lunacy," he said.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan, who represents the region, said he welcomed any funding but agreed with the council's concerns.

"When I spoke with the Mayor, Mick Wolfe, we both agreed that the best thing would be that this $1 million went to areas where it is really needed," he said.

Mr Tehan said he appreciated the Government's commitment to a review of the how the Moyne shire was selected.

Drought Minister David Littleproud called for the "audit" and said the decision had been based on the Bureau of Meteorology figures, showing 62 per cent of the region had been in drought as of June this year.

"I'll be asking for a forensic audit by the bureau to make sure their data collection was right," he said.

"But that is the science that we predicate our decisions on … it shouldn't be a politician's decision, it should be predicated off the best science and the bureau are the ones that provide that to us."

Since the Drought Community Support Program began, 123 councils have been deemed eligible for funding.


© ABC 2019

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