October 14, 2008
Drought policy should be changed to make sure the National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) visits each region before making any decisions to end Exceptional Circumstances drought support in the future, according to The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester.
Mr Chester has told Federal Parliament of the need to better support farmers, calling for drought policy to be changed. He said Gippsland farming families had been placed under unnecessary stress and hardship because the EC approval system failed them.
“The government won’t apologise to Gippsland farming families but I will,” Mr Chester said.
“The original decision was made after a desktop analysis by NRAC. There was no visit to Gippsland, no attempt to assess the circumstances on the ground and no effort to listen to the concerns of locals.
“It took considerable time and effort – and that is time away from the farming enterprise – and it caused a great deal of stress for our farming families to get NRAC to actually visit Gippsland and recognise the need for an extension to the EC funding.”
Mr Chester said the Victorian State Government had also dragged its heels and caused unnecessary stress for farmers.
“I welcome the $115 million drought relief package announced yesterday, which included a 50% rebate on Shire rates,” Mr Chester said.
“I have made several representations to the State and Federal Governments supporting this program, and I know that the rate subsidy is widely supported by farmers.
“However, the fact that the Government ended the program so it could reannounce rate subsidies is another example of unnecessary stress on farmers.”
Mr Chester told Federal Parliament that there was a need for long-term support for communities emerging from drought conditions and urged landholders to apply for assistance.
“Droughts are insidious as they sap the energy and enthusiasm of our farming families and communities and corrode the hopes of the next generation,” Mr Chester said.
“I believe our challenge with EC funding is to support these farming families to basically get them over the hump, knowing full well they will prosper again on the other side when the rains come.
“This is not welfare or charity; it is an investment in the future of our nation’s productive farming enterprises.
“On that point I strongly urge our farming families in EC affected areas to seek information on whether they are entitled to any assistance.
“Do not do the self-assessment and do not take the view that this is some sort of welfare.
“After meeting with several groups of farmers in my electorate, I fear that many of them are too proud to put their hands up and ask for assistance.”
Mr Chester said governments had an obligation to better inform farming families about the benefits which they may be entitled to access.