Council seeks drought support

David Braithwaite

WELLINGTON Shire Council will seek an increase in state government support for drought-affected farmers.

On Tuesday night, council passed a motion for the mayor to write to Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford over what support options are available to Gippsland farmers, “who have suffered two years of severe rainfall deficiencies, without receiving drought aid from the Victorian government”.

The motion was moved by councillor Malcolm Hole, who said Gippsland seemed “to be the forgotten corner of Australia in relation to the drought”.

“New South Wales and Queensland are getting all the media attention — good luck to them, they’re getting all the donations and the support from the state governments,” he said.

Cr Hole said the region was experiencing a one-in-20-year rainfall deficiency.

“You only have drive around our shire, in particular the dryland areas, but we do notice in the irrigation areas, hay is also being fed, because of the slow growth,” he said.

“If we had been in NSW, our farmers would have received freight subsides towards hay deliveries, they would have got some grants, they would have received a waiver on vehicle registration and on some government fees.

“We’ve got 2363 dryland farmers in Wellington, and the Bureau of Meteorology map shows the region from Morwell to Mallacoota is worse than much of NSW, but the NSW government has provided $1 billion in drought support.

“In Victoria, our government has offered Gippsland farmers a series of information sessions on how to handle dry seasons.”

Even if rain comes, Cr Hole said, long term support would be needed.

“Once this drought breaks, it’s not going to be gold and platinum overnight, it will take four or five years for our shire to recover with the stock numbers that we need to keep the area viable,” he said.

“In the meantime, so many of our traders in our towns all around the region are suffering because the rural population hasn’t got the money to spend.”

Minister Pulford met with the East Gippsland Shire mayor on Wednesday to discuss the drought situation.

“Victoria is currently experiencing below average rainfall across Central and East Gippsland and Northern Victoria and that’s why, with Agriculture Victoria, we’re continuing to monitor seasonal conditions and consult with industry and the community,” a government spokesperson said.

“We recognise that the next one to two months are crucial for farmers and rainfall is needed for crops and spring pasture growth.

“Agriculture Victoria has conducted 14 beef and sheep workshops attended by over 180 farmers. The workshops have focused on supporting farmers to make decisions, explore supplementary feeding options, manage pastures, soil and water and maintain well-being.”

Agriculture Victoria is monitoring the cost of feed. Demand for feed grain and fodder continues to be strong across the state, driven by limited pasture growth and subsidised demand from NSW.

The government will be looking at all sensible options as the extent of the spring break becomes clear.

The government, however, does not have plans at this stage to subsidise feed or transport in Victoria, as that approach is often quickly built into the price.

Meanwhile, Wellington and East Gippsland shires have been named among 60 regions nationally to receive new funding from the Drought Communities Program as part of a suite of further drought support measures announced by the federal government.

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester said the shires would each receive an initial allocation of $1 million in grant funding on top of direct assistance to farming families.

“The federal government will provide money directly to councils, so they can choose projects that will have the biggest impact for their own communities,” he said.

“Council could choose to upgrade or build new community facilities, hold events or coordinate drought-relief activities.”

Mr Chester said councils would be invited to submit proposed projects and priority would be given to those that use local businesses to the greatest degree possible.

Mr Chester advocated for Wellington and East Gippsland shires to be included in the Drought Communities Program after advice from local farmers that current conditions are the worst they have experienced in more than 90 years.

Separately, the federal government also announced tax breaks, low interest loans and simplifying the application form for Farm Household Allowance.

Mr Chester said farmers would be able to immediately deduct the cost of fodder storage assets, rather than depreciate over three years.

The federal government is doubling the amount a farmer can borrow in low-interest loans to $2 million and increasing the total amount available for these loans to $500 million in any one year.

Last month, the government announced additional funding for recipients of the Farm Household Allowance of $12,000 per couple, bringing the year’s FHA assistance to $37,000; and a $7200 boost for singles, bringing the year’s assistance to $22,000. An increased asset threshold from $2.6 million to $5 million was also introduced to make more farmers eligible for FHA support.