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Victoria announces drought support for East and Central Gippsland, Millewa communities

Wednesday October 2, 2019 - 15:43 EST
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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews speaks with drought-affected East Gippsland farmers. - ABC

The Victorian Government has announced $31 million for drought-affected farmers in the driest parts of the state.

The Government will establish a $15 million Farmers Drought Fund, which includes payments of up to $3,000 for farming families facing 'extreme' hardships, and grants for on-farm drought preparedness.

Farmers in East and Central Gippsland, the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District and Millewa in north west Victoria will be eligible for what Premier Daniel Andrews said is a balanced package.

"It won't make it rain, no drought package can do that," Mr Andrews said.

"But it is about targeted practical support both for the short term, for those who are doing it tough right now, and also from a businesses point of view, trying to adapt to what is a changing climate."

The Country Women's Association and Victorian Farmers Federation are working with the Victorian Government to assess farmers' eligibility for the hardship grants.

Mr Andrews said the Victorian Government will adopt eligibility criteria similar to that of the Federal Government's Farm Household Allowance.

Mr Andrews rejected calls for new dams to drought-proof some of the driest parts of the state.

"Dams don't make it rain — there are a number of water infrastructure projects that are worthy and important," he said.

"We should get on with them, not be diverted into silly political debates — instead provide real support to those who are doing it tough."

The package includes $4.6m for a drought employment program, which aims to create 120 jobs through catchment management authorities in eligible regions to provide off-farm work elsewhere for struggling farmers.

Rate relief excluded

Farmers have called for drought funding to be spent on rates relief, but this is not directly included in the funding announcement.

Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said the Victorian Government would provide $5.24m to the Mildura, Wellington and East Gippsland councils.

"We will require that the councils alleviate cost pressures on farmers," Ms Symes said.

"Whether they reduce their rates would be a matter for them — we don't want to dictate that to them.

"Rates are set by local councils and we don't think it's appropriate for the State Government to directly intervene in that process."

The funding will enable DELWP to waive fees for new water bores and includes $2m for mental health services.

"[That much money] goes a long way, but that's not the end of it," Ms Symes said.

"I have a whole army of Agriculture Victoria people passionate to help in numerous ways"

Fund follows Federal drought support

The announcement comes days after the Federal Government extended its drought support, announcing grants of under the Community Drought Support Program.

The Government included a south-west Victorian council in the latest drought package, but the because the region is not in drought.

Ms Symes and Mr Andrews announced the Victorian drought support during a visit to Bairnsdale, in eastern Victoria.

Mr Andrews said he would not be drawn on accusations of pork-barrelling by the Federal Government in the Moyne Shire.

"They've made a mistake and they've been pretty clear about that," Mr Andrews said.

"I am not going to play political games with what is a simple error."

East Gippsland is in its third year of drought, , where paddocks look healthy from a distance even though pasture growth is hamstrung by low rainfall and grass growth is stymied by weeds.

Some farmers have estimated their losses as up to 70 per cent of their regular income.

The Nationals member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said it was the first time in five years that the premier has visited the area.

"Over the past five years we've had periods of fire, flood and now drought, and it seems the premier is finally making an effort," Mr Bull said.

In February, Ms Symes announced a $13m assistance package for drought affected farmers across Central and East Gippsland and northern Victoria, — especially compared to the $1.3 billion offered to drought-hit farmers in NSW.

The February package took the Victorian Government's drought assistance spend to about $50 million.


© ABC 2019

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