After five years as Premier, Daniel Andrews has finally made it to East Gippsland, but unfortunately only dropped in for an hour in what was clearly a box ticking visit, to make an underwhelming drought announcement before flying to Mildura.
“With the current drought package coming to a conclusion, farmers have been waiting for the new assistance measures to be announced and they had rate relief at the top of their list,” said Gippsland East Nationals MP, Tim Bull.
“It’s the one thing they have pleaded for, but it is missing altogether in what is largely an extension of existing programs.
“The Minister constantly says she is ‘listening to farmers’, but clearly she is not. They have made it very clear on a number of occasions what they wanted.
“The Minister admitted on-air today she did now know how much local councils collected from farmers, but a quick phone call or email would have clarified it is $4.9m in East Gippsland and $10.1m in Wellington.
“The announcement today to provide payments to East Gippsland of $1.51m and Wellington of $3.31m is not the direct rates relief farmers have been calling for and, regardless, it does not cover one third of farm rates in either shire. While I look forward to discussions with councils on how they plan to utilise these funds, it’s well short of the mark.
“The Minister said earlier this year rate subsidies were ‘on the table’ but has now dismissed it as a ‘matter for councils’. She seems to forget that in 2008 and 2009 Labor provided direct rate subsidies to councils in the millennium drought.
“Reality is it is not a matter for councils as they cannot take that big a hit to their budgets. The only way to do this, as was done 10 years ago, is for the state to pay the rates on behalf of farmers to councils. That the Minister has ruled this out, will disappoint many.
“As much as she says she is listening to farmers, clearly she is not.
“Today’s $31m package, much of which is dependent on matching funding, pales in comparison to the support for farmers in NSW which just hit $1.8 billion.”
Mr Bull paid tribute to the Gippsland Agricultural Group for receiving funding support for their trial farm at Bengworden, an outcome he sought recently in Parliament with a question to the Minister to support the enterprise.