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Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester today welcomed $31 million in Federal Government funding for phase two of the Macalister Irrigation District modernisation project.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the funding at Briagolong during a visit to Gippsland with Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, hosted by Mr Chester.

Mr Chester said phase two of the modernisation project would focus on the Newry and Stratford area.

“This next stage of the project will complete the transformation of the Macalister Irrigation District’s ageing assets into a highly automated, efficient, modern water delivery system,” Mr Chester said.

“Phase 2 will save and reinvest up to 10GL of water back into the rural economy, secure the Newry and Stratford supply network and boost Gippsland’s output of milk and food, and reduce nutrient discharges to local waterways.

“Importantly, Phase 2 works would boost jobs during construction and create ongoing jobs as rural businesses expand. This is a significant long-term investment in Gippsland’s water infrastructure at a time when much of the region is in drought.”

Last week, Mr Chester told parliament the drought had worsened in Gippsland.

“The drought is having a huge economic, social and environmental impact on our communities, some of which are enduring some of the driest conditions for a century,” Mr Chester said.

“The Federal Government is now helping 380 farming families across Gippsland with fortnightly payments of up to $615 under the Farm Household Allowance. There are two special lump sum payments for recipients: one paid last September and the second this April of $12,000 for couples and $7200 for singles,” Mr Chester said.

The Federal Government has also committed $30 million for selected charities to continue supporting farmers, farm workers and farm suppliers with cash payments and vouchers to pay for basic needs such as food, personal products and utility bills.

During his visit, the Prime Minister also announced an extra $2.5 million for extra mental health services would be distributed through the Gippsland Primary Health Network to help ensure farmers had someone to talk to and discuss their situation.

Mr Chester also welcomed news the Victorian Government had signed up to the Federal Government’s On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme enabling drought-hit farmers to claim up to 25 per cent on new farm water infrastructure costs.
Under the scheme, primary producers, property owners, share farmers and lease holders in a drought-affected area can apply for a rebate for new water infrastructure for grazing livestock and to improve drought resilience.

Eligible expenses include buying and installing pipes, tanks, troughs and pumps. Twenty-five percent of those expenses incurred since July 2018 can be claimed, or up to a maximum amount agreed by their state government.

“I’ve been meeting with farmers and agricultural industry representatives across Gippsland. They’ve been telling me that one of the major issues they are facing is access to on-farm water,” Mr Chester said.

“As this drought worsens, the implementation of this scheme is becoming increasingly urgent.”
Last week, the government introduced legislation to establish its $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund to provide a sustainable source of investment for drought resilience works, adaptation, preparedness and recovery.

Other support available from the Commonwealth Government includes $3.6 million to expand Medicare Benefit Services to enable local doctors to offer mental well-being support services via telehealth to rural and remote patients, and $225,000 for ReachOUT to raise awareness of counselling services in drought-affected communities.

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