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April 28, 2009

Bushfire grants will become available to more farmers and small business owners, following changes to the ‘51 percent rule’, which had blocked many Gippsland fire victims from receiving government support.

The State and Federal governments have jointly announced that bushfire grants of $5000 will be extended to farmers who earn less than 51 percent of their income on farm, if their total annual income was below $100,000 a year.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said the change was one which he had raised directly with the Federal Agriculture Minister during his recent visit to Gippsland; and with the Hon Bill Shorten, Parliamentary Secretary for Bushfire Reconstruction.

In a two-pronged attack, The Nationals Member for Morwell, Russell Northe, has also been pursuing the matter at a State Government level.

“Many farmers who lost their homes during the recent bushfires were being penalised for taking off-farm jobs to support themselves through the drought,” Mr Chester said.

“During the drought, while the farm was not returning a great profit, farmers who had taken other work were being excluded from the government grants because they were not earning 51 percent of their income from the farm.

“I’m pleased the Government has listened to the bushfire victims and is prepared to directly support local farmers who have sustained losses,” Mr Chester said.

Mr Northe said the 51 percent rule prevented grants from going to farmers in genuine hardship.

“I encourage all farmers and small business owners to re-apply for government support if they were unsuccessful in the first instance,” Mr Northe said.

Mr Northe said local farmers had thousands of kilometres of fencing which they needed to rebuild.

“I expect many will put this money toward the significant cost of rebuilding fences and other on-farm infrastructure which was not fully covered by insurance,” Mr Northe said.

“We have many farmers who have been battling long-term drought and are now having to rebuild from the ground up.

“They have not returned large profits for the past few years, so the ‘51 percent rule’ was making things very difficult for people who genuinely deserve a helping hand.”

It is estimated that up to 200 farmers and small businesses will become eligible for government support under the new system.  The grants are available through Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA).

Anyone who wants more information should contact Darren Chester’s offices in Sale or Traralgon (phone 1300 131 785) or Russell Northe’s office in Morwell (5133 9088).

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