Drought payments criticised as inadequate

By Thomas Moir

The Victorian Government is making payments of up to $2500 available to young northern Victoria dairy farmers or dairy farmers receiving the Farm Household Allowance as part of a drought package in response to ‘‘unprecedented conditions’’.

But the Opposition has criticised the initiative as a ‘‘disappointing token gesture’’.

Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes announced an additional $13million on Friday aimed at helping ‘‘ease the financial burden’’ for those ‘‘hit hardest by drought and dry conditions’’.

A statement from her office said northern Victoria was experiencing ongoing dry seasonal conditions following significantly below-average rainfall throughout 2018, ‘‘with dairy farmers particularly impacted by high temporary water and feed prices’’.

Ms Symes said the package would deliver support as quickly as possible to those who needed help now.

‘‘This puts cash in farmers’ pockets that can be used to pay rates, invest on-farm or bring in feed — it’s about delivering the support they need most.

‘‘Keeping young farmers on the land is crucial for the future of the industry — that’s why we’re targeting this immediate relief to support young farmers to get through these really tough times.’’

But Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh said the package was ‘‘a long way short of what farmers have been calling for and what they were expecting’’.

‘‘This is a $1million Band-Aid and it’s grossly inadequate in the context of the catastrophic conditions that have been slowly crushing our farmers for months now.

‘‘Farmers are watching the bills pile up. Some faced rates notices this month of tens of thousands of dollars, while at the same time spending thousands of dollars each week to keep livestock fed and watered.’’

Mr Walsh said a program of council rates rebates needed to be implemented by the Victorian Government, while fixed water charge rebates also needed to be on the table.

‘‘Both state and federal governments must help our farmers and rural communities to get through these insidious conditions.’’

The newly announced package included a further $1million to additionally be made available to a Drought Hardship Fund, aimed at providing additional payments to farmers ‘‘who are struggling but don’t qualify for a Drought Hardship Support Payment’’.

A further $5million will also be provided to extend the On-Farm Drought Infrastructure Grants program.