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State drought funds need to do more.

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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Federal Member for Murray Wednesday, 14 October 2008

Media enquiries: C. R. Evans (Mr), 0417 148 110

State drought funds need to do more

THE Federal Member for Murray, Dr Sharman Stone, has welcomed the State Government’s announcement of funding to help drought-stressed farmers but remains concerned it is both too little, too late for some and offers nothing to dry-land farmers.

The funding included $15 million to cover a 50% subsidy on the rates owed to councils by drought-affected farmers in receipt of Exceptional Circumstances assistance. The State Government had provided this funding for the past three years.

“The State Government knew when the shire council rates were due, but refused to re-instate this subsidy until almost a fortnight later,” Dr Stone said.

“Many farms in their sixth year of drought have little left to pay. This additional stress could have been avoided if the Brumby Government had showed some compassion and announced the continuation of the subsidy five months ago.”

The State Government has also given $2.9 million to boost mental health services and support, but the excellent drought support officers working out of local councils and neighbourhood houses have only been given a one-month extension.

These officers, people like Alanna Jenkins working out of the Kyabram Community and Learning Centre, have been cold-calling farm properties for a very long time to deliver direct and immediate support.

Her role includes referring people to mental health or other services. She and her co-drought workers were told they had a one-month extension until 2 October.

“Again, it is callous and unprofessional to wait until after the deadline to extend funding to some. This is treating employees with contempt,” Dr Stone said.

Dr Stone said she strongly welcomed the $58 million water rebate for irrigators. However, she said she was at a loss to understand why the State Government continued to largely ignore dry-land farmers.

“If Mr Brumby drove from east to west across the Murray electorate, he would see that both irrigation and non-irrigated areas are suffering,” Dr Stone said.

“Dry-land farmers need stock-watering and infrastructure support, as well as water and fodder cartage cost-relief.

“Some help with drought feeding (for) livestock would also help them survive.”

Dr Stone said the State Government should also cover the costs of pumping from the Waranga Basin, a rebate for the water not delivered (for which farmers have been charged) and extra support to retain rural apprentices.