The fund will provide household financial relief for families in thise areas who have been hit hard by drought – with $3 million to deliver hardship payments of up to $3,000 per family, taking immediate pressure off everyday expenses.
The Labor Government said its current drought program has provided 4,855 grants for Victorian farming businesses to improve drought management and preparedness. The Premier said the Farmers’ Drought Fund continues that work, with $12 million in grants to support the long-term future of farming with drought infrastructure and business planning.
The package also includes $5.2 million in Local Government Service Support Payments, which will be provided to East Gippsland, Wellington and Mildura Shires to help councils meet the immediate needs of their communities.
However there was no mention of rate relief which has been long sought-after by farmers, rural bodies and councils.
The Catchment Management Authority Drought Employment Program will be extended, giving farmers and their employees access to off-farm employment and training. The $4.6 million investment will continue the Program in Wellington and East Gippsland, and roll it out for the first time in the Millewa and GMID.
The Nationals Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said the Premier "dropped in for an hour in what was clearly a box ticking visit."
“With the current drought package coming to a conclusion, farmers have been waiting for the new assistance measures to be announced and they had rate relief at the top of their list,” Mr Bull said.
“It’s the one thing they have pleaded for, but it is missing altogether in what is largely an extension of existing programs.
“The Minister constantly says she is ‘listening to farmers’, but clearly she is not. They have made it very clear on a number of occasions what they wanted.
“The Minister admitted on-air today she did now know how much local councils collected from farmers, but a quick phone call or email would have clarified it is $4.9m in East Gippsland and $10.1m in Wellington.
“The announcement today to provide payments to East Gippsland of $1.51m and Wellington of $3.31m is not the direct rates relief farmers have been calling for and, regardless, it does not cover one third of farm rates in either shire. While I look forward to discussions with councils on how they plan to utilise these funds, it’s well short of the mark," saif Mr Bull.
The Victorian Farmers Federation however has welcomed the new package, saying it is "glad the Premier has now travelled to drought-affected regions in Victoria to see the dire conditions firsthand."
“The new drought package is a step towards providing desperately needed support for farmers struggling through some of the worst drought conditions on record,” said Mr David Jochinke, VFF President.