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.
Country-based Liberal-Nationals MPs were unable to make it back in time for the start of Parliament today, after travelling to Remembrance Day services in their local electorates.
Leader of The Nationals Peter Walsh said the Andrews Labor Government had scheduled a sitting day of Parliament on Remembrance Day, with a delayed start time of 2pm.
That only allowed enough time for city MPs to attend Remembrance Day services in their electorates, while country MPs were left unable to get back to Parliament on time.
“Remembrance Day is such an important opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made to keep our country safe and it’s a day all MPs rightly want to spend with their communities,” Mr Walsh said.
“Postponing the start of Parliament has been of no help to country MPs who live three or four hours away from Melbourne and have been unable to get back to Parliament on time.
“Yet again we have seen the Andrews Labor Government make a decision that is solely focused on the city while forgetting all about country Victorians.
“Parliament should not sit on Remembrance Day at all, as a mark of respect.
“The former Coalition Government made a deliberate decision not to schedule Parliament on Remembrance Day and I urge Daniel Andrews to show more respect and do the same in future.
“Country MPs should not be forced to choose between spending this important day with their communities and attending Parliament on time.”
David O’Brien, The Nationals candidate for Polwarth, is calling for a significant upgrade to the status and condition of the Twelve Apostle route from the Princes Highway across to the Great Ocean Road.
“The Twelve Apostles and Lochard Gorge are Australian icons drawing visitors from all over Australia and the world, yet we have a substandard road to get there,” Mr O’Brien said.
“It is not a great road, in fact it is a very poor road that takes us to these magnificent natural wonders. What we should have is the “Great Otway Link” and a new name and a new road worthy of such a name,” said Mr O’Brien.
“I am calling on infrastructure Australia to recognise the economic and cultural significant of this road and I believe it worthy of a project application for the development of an integrated rail and roadway service from Melbourne to the Twelve Apostles
If I am elected on Saturday one of my first calls will be to my Federal Colleague, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, to ask for his support and assistance with this project,” stated Mr O’Brien
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.”
Under pressure from the Liberal-Nationals Coalition, the Andrews Labor Government has been shamed into reinstating funding for Workplace Learning Coordinators.
Comments attributed to Steph Ryan:
“Young people will be relieved by Labor’s last minute backflip on funding for Victoria’s workplace learning coordinators.
“It is disappointing that Daniel Andrews had to be shamed into reinstating funding for these positions.
“Labor’s belated funding announcement is too little too late for some coordinators who were forced to quit their jobs to find more secure work.
“It is imperative that the government immediately engages the remaining coordinators to ensure the program is in place for next year.”
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.”