Speaking in State Parliament today, Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, has yet again called for more support for drought-impacted farmers, particularly in the area of council rates relief, which could be provided to East Gippsland and Wellington Shires for $15 million.
“I have been in touch with both shires again this week and the ball park figure is the state could pay farmer council rates in full in East Gippsland at a cost of around $5m and around $10m in Wellington Shire,” Mr Bull said.
“The Minister is coming to the region this Friday and it is the ideal time to announce this support, which myself and others have been calling for since October.
“In the context of government support this is not a big amount, it will directly benefit the farming community and it is miniscule when you compare it to what the New South Wales Government has done in its level of support,” he said.
Mr Bull again told Parliament many farming families were not eligible for many of the supports currently being provided by the State and it was time for real support that captured everyone.
“The workshops and community resilience programs the Government has announced are fine, but of very little assistance to those who are in financial distress.
“The infrastructure grants require matching funding and many don’t have the capacity for that at the moment and the back to school relief is not hitting the target.
“It is flawed in that families in drought-impacted areas who are not farmers, receive it and farmers who don’t have school aged children do not get anything – ridiculous.
“Pre-Christmas I organised and attended several drought forums with farmers from across the region and at some, the then Minister and Shadow Minister were present,” Mr Bull told Parliament.
“Landholders had many different requests including requests for fodder transport support, support for water cartage costs, power bill subsidies for those running pumps and even super subsidies for those who have destocked but want help restoring pasture when it does finally rain.
“The needs were many and varied depending on circumstances.
“But when the discussions were had, there was a general consensus that council rate relief was the fairest and most even handed way to offer support. Under the proposal, the State pays the council the equivalent of the farm rate income ($15m), leaving councils no worse off and farmers rate-free for 12 months.
“This would have a double impact of freeing up funds for landholders to spend in their specific areas of need and also supporting the local economy when those funds were spent, noting that our rural businesses also suffer in times of drought.
“This would provide real support to everyone across the board, rather than the hit-and-miss supports currently announced. Rate relief has been provided in the past in times of drought and it should be done again.
“The previous Labor Minister repeatedly said because rates weren’t due until February, it would be considered in the New Year.
“As a result of this comment, I wrote to the Minister and Premier in the New Year seeking they introduce this drought measure.
“However, despite not hearing back as yet, the new Minister dismissed this measure, being quoted in the Gippsland Times on February 5 that “Rates are squarely a matter for local councils.
“This was not in line with what was said pre-Christmas.
“After somewhat of a backlash I was pleased to see some backtracking this week, when the Minister said “Council rate relief is on the table”.
“Despite the flip-flopping I encourage her to make this important step when she visits Friday,” Mr Bull said.
He concluded by saying the other measure that would greatly assist is for the Government to extend the free “fill your household water tank” service as is currently available in the Wellington Shire.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019