Member for Morwell Russell Northe has said reports this morning that the Hazelwood mine, one of the Latrobe Valley’s key employers, plans to close its doors in April are a “distressing” prospect for the local community.
“Jobs in the region are very hard to come by with unemployment currently at 19.7 per cent in Morwell. If the mine’s approximately 550 direct jobs and hundreds and hundreds of indirect jobs disappear it will snowball a growing unemployment crisis in the Valley,” Mr Northe said.
“Labor first slated closure of Hazelwood in 2010 – they’ve got their wish, so it would be a show of absolute ignorance for Labor to sit on their hands until Latrobe Valley workers are left without jobs.
“Labor must come clean now on what they know of this closure and what their plan is to keep jobs in the Latrobe community.
“The Nationals understand this closure would have a significant impact on the local community. I will meet with business and industry in the near future to discuss what can be done to ease this pressure on our local workforce.”
Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford has refused to answer how her State Government will further support Victoria’s dairy farmers, despite her complaints that the Federal Government’s $579 million assistance package is not enough.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announced a $555 million concessional loans scheme last month after Murray Goulburn and Fonterra unexpectedly slashed milk prices.
Extra Rural Financial Counselling services are available, and dairy families can also now receive the Commonwealth Government’s $1000 per fortnight Farm Household Allowance payments.
Victoria was immediately allocated $30 million for initial concessional loan demand, with further funds available to be allocated when needed.
However, Ms Pulford stalled the process to roll out the loans and instead focused on petty political games.
Today in the Legislative Council, The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath asked what was missing from the Commonwealth package, but the Minister refused to provide an answer.
Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh
“When put on the spot and asked what else the Andrews Labor Government planned to do to assist dairy farmers, Ms Pulford arrogantly refused to answer.”
“The $11.4 million of state and industry funds Ms Pulford has announced so far is, of course, welcome but there is more that the State Government could do.
“Farmers have requested direct financial support, like rates rebates which were last week requested by Gannawarra and Campaspe shires and water charge waivers.
“So far, Ms Pulford has ignored these calls from the very farmers she claims to represent, and instead focused on grubby political games.”
The Coalition Government announced today that it will provide support for Australian dairy farmers who have had their incomes retrospectively cut by dairy processors Murray-Goulburn and Fonterra.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce said the Coalition will deliver immediate assistance to dairy farmers in hardship to help them manage through these difficult times and return to profitability.
“I was pleased to meet dairy farmers in Victoria last week and the Coalition wants to send a clear message that the Coalition stands shoulder to shoulder with them,” Mr Joyce said.
The key elements of the support package are:
- $555 million in Dairy Recovery Concessional Loans
- $20 million to fast track the upgrade of the Macalister Irrigation District
- $2 million to establish a commodity milk price index
- $900,000 for an additional 9 Rural Financial Counsellors in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales
- $900,000 for Dairy Australia’s ‘Tactics for Tight Times’ programme
- Fast tracking Farm Household Allowance applications with 18 more Department of Human Services employees processing claims
- Appointment of a Department of Human Services Dairy Industry Liaison Officer
- Redirection of two Department of Human Services Mobile Service Centres to dairy regions
“The Coalition will be making immediately available $55 million in Dairy Recovery Concessional Loans for Murray-Goulburn and Fonterra suppliers this year, as well as access to $500 million in concessional loans over 2016-17 and 2017-18 years. The recovery loans will be for terms of 10 years,” Mr Joyce said.
The concessional loans will be funded by expanding the drought concessional loan scheme to include dairy-specific criteria.
Mr Joyce said the Coalition was allocating $900,000 to Rural Financial Counselling Services in dairy production areas to ensure farmers receive the farm business financial advice needed, as well as $900,000 to Dairy Australia to continue rolling out one-to-one business advisory support via the Tactics for Tight Times programme.
Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge said the Coalition is taking immediate action to ensure eligible dairy farmers have fast-tracked access to the support they need to get through the tough times.
“We’ve ramped up the number of staff processing Farm Household Allowance claims. An extra 18 people have been brought in to process claims and to work directly with farming families on their individual cases, with a special focus on people in financial hardship,” Mr Tudge said.
“Where a farmer is facing real hardship and we have received the full details, a decision can be made almost immediately. If there is any difficulty obtaining the information we need to assess a claim, Farm Household Case Officers can talk to the farmer’s accountant or financial adviser to help get the information needed.
“Our one-stop-shop Mobile Service Centres are now travelling through the hard-hit dairy areas of regional Victoria and South Australia. The Service Centres provide direct access to the full range of Government services and are staffed with people who can answer farmers’ questions. Farmers can submit claims for Farm Household Allowance and other income support at the Mobile Service Centre, or by mail, online or at any Centrelink or DHS Service Centre.”
Mr Tudge said the Coalition will appoint a dedicated Dairy Industry Liaison Officer who will work on the ground with dairy farmers and local communities to coordinate support and services.
“I encourage any farmer with questions to contact the Farmer Assistance Hotline on 132 316, which is running on extended hours from 8am to 8pm each week day,” Mr Tudge said.
Mr Joyce said the Coalition is delivering these assistance measures now as an immediate response under the Caretaker Conventions, not waiting until after the election on 2 July.
“In a sign of our strong confidence in the future of the Australian dairy industry, a re-elected Coalition Government will commit $20 million to build the upgrade of the Macalister Irrigation System in Gippsland,” Mr Joyce said.
“The Macalister project will upgrade the 1920s and 1950s era Southern-Tinamba area irrigation network delivering almost 10 gigalitres in water savings which can be put back into growing the region’s agricultural production.”
Mr Joyce said to help ensure the domestic dairy industry does not in future find itself in a situation where dairy processors unexpectedly reduce farm gate milk prices late in the season, a re-elected Coalition Government will work with the dairy industry to establish a commodity milk price index.
“The index would introduce greater transparency and market signals in domestic and global milk prices. The Coalition will consult with the industry on the design of the index that would provide dairy farmers with valuable information for use in supply negotiations with processors and to assist in following international price trends,” Mr Joyce said.
“The Coalition values the contribution our dairy farmers make to their regional communities and the nation as a whole and we are proud to support them throughout good times and bad.”
Leader of The Nationals and Coalition Shadow Minister for Water Peter Walsh has welcomed the passing of amendments to the Commonwealth Water Act.
“On behalf of Victorian irrigators who called for these amendments, I extend our thanks to Barnaby Joyce for getting this important Bill dealt with before the Federal election,” Mr Walsh said.
“The Amendment gives the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder much greater flexibility for spending the proceeds gained from water sales.
“Under the old law, if the CEWH sold water to the temporary market, it had to use the proceeds of that sale to purchase water back at a future date.
“That restrictive condition is gone now, and the CEWH will be able to make smarter use of these funds. For example, it could invest in engineering works like the systems we have in Gunbower Forest or Hattah Lakes that deliver positive environmental outcomes while using water much more efficiently.
“This alteration was a key part of the submission I made to the Senate’s Basin Plan enquiry last year. Minister Joyce committed to us that he would fix it before the election and he has delivered on the promise.
“The Water Act amendment is a good first step to ensuring better outcomes for irrigators but The Nationals will continue the fight for a fairer Basin Plan that protects our irrigators, rural industries and communities.”
The Andrews Government has again failed to properly fund the protection of Victorian riverbanks.
Before the last election, the Coalition committed to a $45 million program for fencing Crown Land river frontages.
Today Lisa Neville has re-announced $10 million already listed in the 2015/16 Budget (BP3, p56). There is no funding for riparian land care in the forward estimates.
The Budget also confirms (p5) there is still $105 million unspent in the government’s Environmental Contribution Levy (ECL) Fund.
Comments from Shadow Minister for Water Peter Walsh:
“The launch of this Action Plan was the ideal time for Daniel Andrews to make a serious funding commitment from the ECL Fund to help protect our riparian reserves.”
“Farmers will also want Daniel Andrews to guarantee that the Crown Land fencing program will remain voluntary.”
The Andrews Labor Government’s plan to reverse the north-south pipeline and turn on the desal plant is more than a thought bubble, with a business case underway.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Water Minister Lisa Neville have both recently talked-up the potential of reversing of the north-south pipeline to send water from Melbourne to the north of the state.
Under Labor’s plan, water taken from the Melbourne system would be replaced with desalinated water, which costs around $5000 per megalitre to produce.
When questioned in Parliament this week, Lisa Neville refused to say how much reversing the pipeline would cost or who would pay for the water if it did go ahead, but said a business case was being undertaken.
Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Water Minister Peter Walsh said the plan was nothing more than a cruel hoax on northern Victorian irrigators who were already struggling to afford up to $300 per megalitre on the temporary water market.
“It would be ridiculous to ask irrigators to pay $5000 per megalitre for water when they are already struggling with the current price,” Mr Walsh said.
“The average dairy farm would be paying around $4.5 million a year for water at that pricetag.
“Labor’s plan is nothing more than a cruel hoax and a desperate attempt to justify turning on the desal plant.”
The cost of desal water:
· The standby cost of the desal plant in 2015/16 is $620 million, with no water produced.
· To produce 150GL of water, the capacity of the plant, would cost an additional $117 million.
· The total cost of $737 million divided by 150GL (150,000ML) is $4913 per ML.
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.”
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."
The Nationals candidate for South West Coast Michael Neoh has today called for a new age energy centre of excellence to be established at Portland.
Speaking ahead of the candidates' forum at Portland on Wednesday, Mr Neoh said that new age, or renewable, energy industry was a perfect fit for Portland.
“Victoria’s south west coast has many natural advantages for renewable energy such as an abundance of wind, the ocean coastline and sunlight.
“There are a number of wind turbines installed around the district, and components for wind turbine towers are already manufactured at Portland by Keppel Prince so it makes sense to continue to build on this natural advantage.
“In addition, the relevant renewable energy department and staff should be located in Portland to ensure critical work at the centre of excellence is done locally.
“The locating of the department in Portland would create a welcomes boost to the local economy as well as bring new jobs and families to the area.
“The locating of the centre of excellence in Portland would no doubt see hundreds of new jobs created for our whole region in the future.”
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.”