Ignored and forgotten

Sarah Luke

LOCAL farmers have had a gutful.

It’s midday on Friday, and Giffard father of five Trent Anderson is grazing his cattle herd on the roadside.

“We’ve bought in feed, so if we can get them out on the road, we can cut that feed bill down by about half — it’s basically a cost saving measure,” he says.

“[It’s] every chance we get, and it’s not every day because we can’t afford the time.

“It’s costing me about $1000 a day to keep this mob alive.”

He is joined by his smallest farmhand on staff, Clancy, or ‘Red Pup’, aged four.

Resting on the heels of his dusty cowboy boots, Clancy unzips his lunchbox full of toy trucks and cows and settles in the gravel by the roadside.

Waving away a fly, Trent estimates during the drought, he’s spent about half a million dollars, on top of his rate bill of $37,000, but he can’t know for sure, because he’s stopped counting.

He is one of many farmers in the region who had their hopes dashed by state Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes’ visit to Gippsland last week.

Earlier in the day, just down the road at Bindawarra Merino Stud, Ms Symes announced state support would come in the form of “a relatively small contribution” that excluded rate relief — a measure exasperated farmers have been pleading for, for more than a year.

The $12.6 million package included one-off payments for farmers in central and east Gippsland, as well as northern Victorian dairy farmers, of up to $3500 for farmers aged under 35 and those receiving the Farm Household Allowance.

Other eligible farmers would be entitled to a one-off payment of $2500.

Trent is eligible for a $2500 “cash injection”, which will barely scrape together two days worth of feed.

Visibly heartbroken, Trent described the amount as “disgraceful”.

“I was fielding phone calls yesterday, and people were a bit hopeful; they were hoping they might have been getting something that might’ve put a smile on their face,” he said.

“Just don’t even bother coming down.”

Trent refutes Ms Symes’ claims a cash payment is more flexible, as farmers would have still been able to choose how to spend the money they didn’t put to rates, and maintains rate relief would have been a much more equitable option.

In comparison to council rate subsidies, which provide an unbiased response to drought for farmers across the board, he believes the $2500 is adequate for those with smaller farms, but does little to ease pressure on larger farms.

“If you’ve got 500 sheep down the road, and a rate bill of $3000, you’ve basically got it covered,” he said.

“If you’re someone like myself, or there’s bigger farmers than me around, it’s five per cent of our rate bill — it’s nothing.

“The inequity of it is just ridiculous.”

He feels he and his farming friends are being ignored, and forgotten.

“We’re more than 150 kilometres from Melbourne, so we don’t count.”

He questioned what the government’s spruiked drought support total of $43 million is actually being spent on.

“I’ve been told by the government itself 305 grants have been allocated — that’s one and a half million — $250,000 for each shire for some community activities — that’s two million — where has the money gone?

“If you’re [the government] telling us you’ve spent all this money on the drought, where has it gone?

“What people have spent on feed, they’re going to have to spend resowing their properties, refertilising because their fertility has blown away in the wind — where’s the money to help rehabilitate?

“We go on and on about environmental issues, — you’ve got an environmental disaster, and they don’t want to know about it.”

Responding to a UNICEF report released last week that pointed to children living on drought-affected farms in rural Australia as being more likely to experience mental health issues, the cattle farmer said he worries about his own children and other local families.

“I spoke to another farmer this morning, his children are seeing him put down livestock that have suffered from the drought,” he said.

“They’re things a lot of adults can’t handle, and we’ve got kids having to deal and see this on a daily basis.

“We all try and shield them from it as best we can, but it is what it is.”

Trent applauded the Wellington Shire Council for its prompt response.

“Big nod to the Wellington Shire, they’ve been front and centre in this, have been really positive and have done a really good job,” he said.

“They’re doing what they can; we’ve seen more action out of the council, in likes of getting the water carted out and those sorts of things, and the speed that the council is acting is what’s impressive.

“The [state] government needs to look at their local government and see just how you need to get projects done.

“I think she [Ms Symes] said in another two months, they’ll readdress it.

“Six months ago, when a previous minister’s representatives were down, we said where we were going to be in six months, we went over it, they asked us what needed to be done, and we told them the whole lot.

“Six months later, they’ve walked in and said, ‘righto, now, what do we need to do?’

“No-one is listening. They keep asking, we keep telling, no-one listens, and people have had a gutful.”