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Moira Shire misses Government drought money threshold by a fraction

Warwick Long, Tuesday October 22, 2019 - 12:29 EDT
ABC image
Drought and low water availability has cruelled agricultural production in the Moira Shire. - ABC

A small shire along the Murray River in northern Victoria has been told it does not have the agricultural credentials to receive a Federal Government grant to help in times of drought.



The Moira Shire covers the towns of Cobram, Yarrawonga, Nathalia, Numurkah and Tungamah and is supported by diverse farming industries such as dairy, summer fruit production, apple and pear growing, vegetables, grains and livestock.

So it was surprised to hear the reason why it was rejected.

The revelation came in Senate Estimates in Canberra that the Shire has an 'agricultural employment participation rate' of 16.9 per cent, falling just short of the required 17 per cent for the grant.

"I feel very sorry for our farming community," said Moira Shire CEO Mark Henderson.

"They would look at that response from government and say, 'you're kidding.'"

'Look beyond the stats'

The shire has a long agricultural history.

The Murray Goulburn milk cooperative was founded in the region, which is also home to a major GrainCorp oilseed crushing plant, major dairy processing, cattle feed mills, fruit exporters and storage facilities.

Mr Henderson expressed his frustration, especially when comparing Moira's lot to surrounding shires.

"There is another council to our south that when I drove through looked as green as grass, whereas if you drive through Moira shire you won't see that, and they got a million dollar grant a couple of weeks ago.

"I think what we need to say to the government, and in particular to the realm of ministers, is 'look beyond the data!'

"Look beyond the statistics, because people are hurting and they do need support."

Under questioning, from Senator Murray Watt in Senate estimates, Diana Hallam from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development said, "they are not eligible."

She was supported by Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie who added, "that is the decision of government."

Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes disputed the Federal Government's finding, tweeting a graphic of employment saying, "just give them the money — there's plenty of data to back it up."



Shires unaware of criteria

Senator Watt questioned the refusal of drought grants for the Singleton, Yass, Kiama, Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla shires in NSW.

The revelation that there was a 17 per cent threshold for the agricultural employment participation rate came as a surprise to many shires.

Yass Valley Shire mayor Rowena Abbey was one of those who did not know of the criteria before Senate Estimates on Monday.

"We were trying to find out what the criteria is and the difficulty with that is that up until now we had very little information," Ms Abbey said.

"In a funny sort of way maybe this is a good revelation because we have 18 per cent (of the Yass Shire) working in agriculture so maybe we're finally eligible."

The one million dollar grant program to local government areas during drought had been controversial.

The back after being awarded a drought grant while the region was experiencing a wet winter.

The $1 million grants are designed to stimulate the economy in times of drought and councils can spend the money on infrastructure, social activities or other council projects.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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