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More business support needed for drought areas

The Andrews Labor Government’s drought support package is a starting point, but should go further to support farmers and small businesses that are under severe financial strain.

Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Peter Walsh, said for many farmers in the southern Mallee and Wimmera this was the second or third year of failed crops.

Mr Walsh said the Andrews Labor Government should provide greater support to businesses, including discounts to municipal rates and fixed water charges.

“The government’s package is a first step, but it does not include any business support for farms and small businesses affected by drought, and some of the programs are re-announcements,” Mr Walsh said.

“It is not just farmers who struggle in a drought, local businesses are also impacted by the lack of spending in the town.

“In the last drought, farmers were offered discounts on their municipal rates and fixed water charges and it would be beneficial if Daniel Andrews included similar rate relief programs in this support package.”

Mr Walsh said there was around $20 million left from the Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline, which was completed under budget, which could be used to fund water projects in drought-affected areas.

“These water projects need to get started immediately so they benefit drought-affected farmers as soon as possible,” Mr Walsh said.

 

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Coalition support for Bay licence buy-back unchanged

The Liberal-Nationals Coalition continues to support a buy-back of commercial netting licences for Port Phillip Bay, including Corio Bay.

The Coalition committed to the policy during the lead up to the November 2014 election.   

The Coalition’s initiative was then adopted by the Victorian Labor Party.

Today the Andrews Labor Government introduced the Fisheries Amendment Bill 2015 which will legislate the buy-back of commercial licences and phase out netting in Port Phillip Bay by 2022.

Comments from Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh:

“Both myself and Matthew Guy have met with recreational fishing and commercial fishing representatives and stakeholders in recent weeks and we’ve made it clear that we remain committed to the policy we took to the last election.

“In the coming weeks we will examine the legislation presented by the Government to ensure that it provides fair compensation to the licences holders and that the phase-out mechanisms are appropriate.

“Our pre-election policy aspired to make Port Phillip Bay and Corio Bay recreational fishing meccas for locals and visitors alike, and ending commercial netting was a key part of the plan.”

Media releases Regional Development Agriculture Environment

O’BRIEN CALLS FOR FARMERS DEFENDERS OFFICE

Nationals Candidate for Polwarth David O’Brien will fight for a $4 million Farmer’s Defender’s Office to defend the right to farm.

When in government, Mr O’Brien was instrumental in pushing for a Farmer’s Defenders Office, which became Coalition policy.

“My Farmers Defenders Office would give farmers free legal assistance when dealing with issues around the right to farm,” Mr O’Brien said.

"It is intended to assist farmers in Polwarth in fights against non farming uses such as CSG.

“The FDO would also set up partnerships with rural and regional law firms, and will be a first point-of-contact for farmers.

“Farmers don’t always have the money or the legal know how to defend their interests. Further, farmers are often involved in cases which have widespread implications across the nation - cases against competing uses including CSG; or against activists or property developers who move into farming land.

“Farming is the backbone of our rural economies and we need to protect it to protect the jobs of the future.

“To ensure viable farms and food security, we must stop farms being threatened by urban encroachment, unlawful conduct by activists and competing commercial interests including CSG,” Mr O’Brien said.

Rokewood farmer Kylie Walton said farmers had been crying out for a service like this for years. 

"Farmers don't have the money and resources that big mining companies and big property developers do to fight legal battles – we don't have in-house lawyers," Ms Walton said. 

"Finally, this is an idea which may even the playing field a little."

"We need to protect our right to farm, our land and our water for our children."

Media releases Agriculture Community Services Environment

Calls for concessional loans and rates relief for farmers

The Victoria Liberal-Nationals Coalition has urged the Andrews Labor Government to finalise a concessional loans package and consider offering municipal rates rebates and other practical support to Victoria’s drought affected farm communities.

Comments from Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh:

“On behalf of our struggling farmers, we strongly urge the Andrews Government to finalise negotiations and accept the Commonwealth’s latest offer of concessional loans funding.

“We also urge the Andrews Government to offer practical relief to households, such as municipal rates rebates. This measure helped struggling farm families during the last drought and would be welcomed by those who are already facing cash flow pressure.

“The hardship is spreading, and we aren’t even into summer yet. Farmers know this is going to get worse before it gets better.

“Droughts take an awful emotional toll, but our regional communities can be reassured and ready for the tough months ahead if they know there is a comprehensive package of support ready to go.

“Farm businesses are the backbone of our country communities, so when drought strikes it reaches far beyond the farm gate. By supporting farmers, we are supporting everyone who lives and works in regional Victoria.

“Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce will be here in the next couple weeks and I am keen for the Minister to see first-hand the severity of conditions in Victoria.”

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Ag Minister dodges conflict of interest question

Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford has failed to answer questions on the appointment of two union members to the board of Primesafe, Victoria’s industry-funded meat regulator.

Belinda Jacobi, Lead Organiser of the National Union of Workers, was announced as a new member of the Primesafe board on June 2 2015 in a ministerial media release issued by Minister Pulford.

The Minister has a declared membership of the NUW, an organisation which paid $175,117 to the Victorian Labor Party last year.

Today in Question Time Minister Pulford refused to say whether she exempted herself from the process and decision surrounding Ms Jacobi’s appointment.

Just days after Ms Jacobi’s appointment a second union organiser, Australian Meat Industry Employees Union secretary Paul Conway was appointed without public announcement.

There are now 2 union representatives on the 8 member Primesafe board.

Primesafe is funded entirely through levies paid by the red meat, poultry meat and seafood industry.

Comments from Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh:

“The Minister failed to answer a very simple question put to her in Question Time – did she excuse herself from a conflict of interest situation when Ms Jacobi was appointed?”

“Primesafe is the regulator of Victoria’s multi-billion meat industry, not an arena for Labor to repay favours to union allies.”

Media releases Regional Development Agriculture Infrastructure

O’BRIEN CALLS FOR GREATER GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR POLWARTH EXPORTERS

Nationals Candidate for Polwarth David O’Brien has called for Greater Government support for Victorian Regional Exporters.

He has called on the State Government to respond to and support the recommendations from a parliamentary inquiry into rural exports that completed its report last year.  The Andrews Government is six months overdue in providing its response to the report.

In September 2014 the Rural and Regional Committee of the Victorian Parliament handed down its report on the “Inquiry into the opportunities for increasing exports of goods and services from regional Victoria”. Mr O’Brien as the then Nationals Member for Western Victoria chaired the Committee which had two Nationals MPs, one labor MP and one liberal MP.

The Committee produced a bipartisan report that contained 23 unanimous recommendations designed to assist regional exporters, including those in Polwarth, to effectively compete and grow their businesses.

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • That the Victorian Government partner with the Commonwealth Government in assessing the international competitiveness of the regulation and taxation regime faced by Victorian businesses to identify areas of competitive disadvantage.
  • That the Victorian Government work with the Commonwealth Government to strengthen the competitiveness of exporters based in rural and regional Victoria with regard to: relative tariff and trade barriers; and gaining greater market access to existing and future export markets.
  • That the Victorian Government ensure that regional exporters have adequate access to the Port of Melbourne, including adequate time slots.
  • That the Victorian Government continue to invest in road infrastructure on major transport routes and review regulations in relation to high productivity vehicles.
  • That the Victorian Government investigate opportunities for Victorian businesses to invest in foreign companies, particularly in our target export markets such as China, India, South East Asia, North America and the European Union. These opportunities should be promoted and facilitated through Export Victoria, the Victorian Government Business Offices and similar services.

 “Polwarth exports a wide range of goods and services, including dairy, meat and fibre, tourism, transport and education services. Manufacturing also remains an important component of the regions’ economy, comprising just under one‐quarter of Victoria’s exports,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Growing these regional exports requires identifying and supporting our competitive advantages, reducing our costs of production and increasing efficiencies while seeking greater access to existing and emerging export markets. Victoria’s competitive advantages mean we have a strong economy with a strong export sector and potential for further growth. Much of these advantages are based on our ability to produce high quality products, our natural environment and liveability, and our world‐leading education, manufacturing, medical and scientific sectors.”

The report also found that Victoria’s major competitive disadvantages for exporting include high labour costs, the high Australian dollar, regulations and the comparatively small size of the majority of Victorian regional businesses. However, some of these features are also intrinsic to Victoria’s liveability and standard of living.

“The Andrew’s Government ought to have responded to the report six months ago and I call for them to do so. They have not chosen to stand a candidate in the Polwarth by-election and they are now six months overdue in responding to a bipartisan report containing important recommendations for regional exporters.” 

 Mr O’Brien has called for the Governments response to be provided as a matter of urgency.

 

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Food and Fibre Export Performance Report

The 2014/15 Food and Fibre Export Performance Report shows Victorian food and fibre exports increased by $282 million.

That is compared to a $1.2 billion increase last year under the Liberal-Nationals Coalition.

Over the past four years under the Coalition, food and fibre exports grew from $8.8 billion to $11.4 billion.

Comments from Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh:

“These figures reinforce the importance of the food and fibre sector to Victoria’s economy and the jobs it creates in our regional communities.

“It is concerning Labor has cut the agriculture output budget by 12 per cent, the trade output budget by 61.5 per cent and refuses to fully support the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

“If our food and fibre sector is to continue to prosper, it needs a real budget commitment from the Labor Government – not just words.”


Media contact: Sarah O’Connor 0432 074 888 sarah.oconnor@opposition.vic.gov.au

Agriculture Infrastructure Environment Media releases

ChAFTA is good news for Polwarth jobs: O’Brien

The Nationals candidate for Polwarth David O’Brien attended last night’s China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) forum in Colac.

The forum was hosted by the Victorian Farmers Federation and was part of a regional roadshow highlighting the importance of the ChAFTA, which is yet to be ratified.

Mr O’Brien said it was a valuable opportunity to learn more about the ChAFTA and how it will benefit farmers and local jobs, particularly in the dairy industry.

“The Victorian Nationals fully support the ChAFTA and the jobs, opportunity and investment that it will bring,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Polwarth is renowned for its quality dairy industry and we are home to some major dairy businesses including Camperdown Dairy International, which has recently signed a 15-year deal to export baby formula to China.

“The dairy industry, and the jobs it creates, will benefit from the elimination of tariffs across a range of dairy export products through the ChAFTA.”

Mr O’Brien said Western Victoria produced about 2.1 billion litres of milk a year,accounting for approximately 23% of national milk output.

China is Victoria’s largest export destination and in 2013/14 Victoria exported $369 million worth of dairy products to the country.

“I just hope the Andrews Labor Government and its union friends get on board and start supporting this historic agreement,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Failing to ratify the ChAFTA would cost rural Australia $300 million in lost opportunity next year alone.”

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Labor squeezes fruit and veg retailers in Melbourne Markets move

Labor’s bungling of the transition of fruit and vegetable growers to the new Melbourne Market has already caused job losses in the Euroa electorate.

Member for Euroa and Deputy Leader of The Nationals Steph Ryan said Anderson’s Fruit & Veg in Stanhope had closed its doors on Saturday after providing fresh, seasonal produce to the Campaspe Shire for about 50 years.

“Labor bungled the relocation of the Melbourne Market from day dot. When it announced the project in 2004, it was grossly underfunded and poorly designed.

“Now not only are taxpayers footing the bill for the cost blowouts, but Labor has bungled the transition, impacting local growers and retailers.”

Ms Ryan said the opening hours initially planned would have limited access times and made it impossible for many country retailers to get produce back in time to deliver to their buyers.

“Daniel Andrews’ eleventh hour reprieve was too late for some. The owners of Anderson’s Fruit & Veg had to lay off seven staff and notify their customers that they could no longer supply them,” Ms Ryan said.

Benalla’s Fruits N Fare owners Rick and Di Aumann also considered their future after they were initially denied adequate parking at the new site.

Mr Aumann said the problems with the new market space were not limited to opening times or teething problems but were inherent in the flawed design of the space.

“The market is a logistical nightmare. There are limited parking spaces, including a lack of undercover areas, waiting areas and spaces for drivers to sleep,” Mr Aumann said.

“Retailers’ access to the market has been restricted due to the lack of parking which has meant retailers who have previously had five days of access, now only have access for one day of the week.

“Inadequate backing space leaves no room for smooth flowing traffic and does not take into account the needs of B-doubles, refrigerated transport and rear loading and unloading.

“Restricted forklift access will mean retailers cannot pick up produce directly from the supplier and will have to wait for it to be delivered to their truck. If you’re a smaller retailer you will not be priority under this system.

“The whole situation is completely unworkable and will mean many retailers across Victoria will be forced to close their doors,” Mr Aumann said.

MEDIA RELEASE Environment Agriculture

LANDHOLDERS DESERVE RIGHT TO SAY NO TO CSG

The Nationals have heard the concerns of our communities and will demand stronger safeguards for landholders regarding onshore coal seam gas operations should the industry ever develop in Victoria.

The Nationals support landowners having the right to say no to coal seam gas extraction activity on their property.

We also believe the regions where mining takes place should share the benefits from the activity. The Nationals support the introduction of a landowner and community benefit structure, so that when mining activity takes place the local community and landowner get a share of the wealth to invest in local priorities.

The Victorian Nationals will never support any activity that risks harm to our state’s water or land assets. Victoria’s agricultural industries are the lifeblood of our regional communities and are too valuable to jeopardise.

The previous Victorian Coalition Government, of which we were part, introduced a sensible moratorium to stop any hydraulic fracking activity and stop any new coal seam gas exploration or extraction licences until more is known about this activity and how it might affect our water and land assets.

The previous Victorian Coalition Government also brought in legislation so that BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene) chemicals can never be used in any future fracking practice.

In January this year Premier Daniel Andrews indicated the current moratorium would be extended until a public Parliamentary Inquiry is conducted.

The Nationals support maintaining the moratorium, and believe there should be no coal seam gas mining or extraction in Victoria until thorough scientific assessment and community consultation has been completed.

The Nationals also believe we need to better protect landowners. The concerns of our community are important to us, and Victoria’s farming resources are too valuable to lose.

        The Nationals position on onshore unconventional gas:

·     Maintain Victoria’s moratorium on coal seam gas
·     Only if science proves CSG is safe should industry proceed
·     Ensure water resources and the environment are protected
·     Farmers should have the right to say no to CSG extraction on their land
·     Farmers should get fair compensation for and complete rehabilitation of any CSG activities
·     Any CSG activity must deliver a benefit to the land owner
·     Any CSG activity must deliver a benefit to the local community