O’Brien calls for farm rate relief Opposition leader visits local farmers

By Vanessa Wiltshire

VICTORIAN opposition leader Michael O’Brien met with farmers at Glenaroua last Wednesday to better understand the effects of drought.

A statement released by Mr O’Brien’s office said although recent rain has been a huge relief, farmers are still struggling to feed their livestock, with some incurring costs of $10,000 or more a week.

Premier Daniel Andrews was called to deliver shire rate relief in the upcoming state budget.

“I was in East Gippsland two weeks ago and I’m now in Mitchell Shire, visiting farmers,” Mr O’Brien said. “It’s not until you meet with them and see yourself, that you start to understand the impact the drought is having. Not just on the farmers, but on the surrounding communities, too.”

Mr O’Brien questioned why farmers in Mitchell, Murrindindi and Mansfield shires have been excluded from accessing state government drought support.

“There is a state budget coming up on May 27 and Premier Daniel Andrews has not done nearly enough to support the farmers through drought,” he said.

“Rate relief is fair depending on size of farm and rates you pay, you get proportionate amount of relief. Farmers are facing costs in the tens of thousands of dollars per week on feed, which is just not sustainable.

“The state government makes money out of the fact that the state has a productive agriculture sector. And when that sector is in trouble, as it is now, it’s the government’s obligation to step in and provide a helping hand.

“Our farmers are good business people, but they can’t control the drought and climate. This is the time the government steps up and gives these people a hand”.

Ross and Sarah Thomson, who are sheep and wool farmers in Glenaroua, met with Mr O’Brien. They said they are not looking for a handout.

“We just want recognition that our local area is in drought too,” Mr Thomson said.

“This is actually an issue that’s bigger than farming, it’s about the flow-on effect.

“When communities are in drought, everyone suffers. Farmers don’t spend nearly as much in town as they normally would. Everyone suffers.”

Mr O’Brien said that farmers across the seat of Euroa are struggling through a severe drought.

“Daniel Andrews needs to get out of the city and visit farmers with an announcement on council rate relief,” he said.

“The Premier has failed to provide adequate support to drought-affected farmers and communities in Euroa.’’

Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes acknowledged that farmers across the state have been ‘‘doing it tough’’ with unprecedented dry conditions.

“My office has spoken to Mr and Mrs Thomson at Glenaroua on five separate occasions, and they have also been engaging with Agriculture Victoria to discuss the support that might be available to them,” Ms Symes said.

“Ag Vic also visited their farm last Wednesday to have a look at the conditions, provide support and advice.

“As the government’s Minister for Agriculture, I have made countless trips to regions affected by dry conditions, including the Mitchell Shire, to meet with farmers and discuss how we can help them prepare for and manage tough seasonal conditions. I will continue to do this.

“While we can’t make it rain, we can offer support and get out and listen to farmers, and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

Ms Symes said that some farmers are being led to believe that they’re not eligible for any government drought support at all.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing to see the Member for Malvern spreading this misinformation for political purposes instead of helping farmers access the support that is available,” she said.

This support includes:

■Technical assistance delivered by Agriculture Victoria, which provides technical advice and delivers workshops and webinars to assist farm businesses manage dry seasonal conditions;

■The Rural Financial Counselling Service, which provides free financial counselling to primary producers and small rural businesses who are experiencing financial hardship;

■The Commonwealth Farm Household Allowance, which provides income welfare support for eligible farm businesses experiencing financial hardship;

■Commonwealth Government Concessional Loans for drought and farm investments, which are delivered by the Regional Investment Corporation and;

■The On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme, which provides a 25 per cent rebate up to $25,000 (GST exclusive) to eligible primary producers for the costs associated with the purchase and installation of on-farm water infrastructure that addresses animal welfare needs and improves resilience to drought and dry conditions.