VICTORIA’S farmers have given qualified support for a new $25 million State Government drought preparedness and support package announced today.
The package for drought-affected communities in east and central Gippsland and northern Victoria prepare offers targeted support for mental health, small business planning and support for parents in farming communities manage cost of living pressures.
Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford announced the package near Wedderburn today, givingfamilies in East and Central Gippsland access to $8.45 million for education costs, including $2.2 million for Back to School support, a further $5 million to extend the Camps, Sports and Excursion Fund and $1.25 million for children attending kinder in drought-affected areas.
A further $370,000 will go towards supporting small businesses with planning workshops and mobile mentoring services in East and Central Gippsland.
Farming communities in northern Victoria will receive more than $2 million for mental health and wellbeing services, with $180,000 of this funding dedicated to the National Centre for Farmer Health to deliver health checks to farmers.
Northern Victorian farmers will also now be able to apply to the Drought Infrastructure Grant Program along with farmers in Central and East Gippsland with an $11.8 million boost to the program.
VFF president David Jochinke welcomed the expanded relief arrangements, but also called on the government to ensure infrastructure grants available to farmers are meaningful for effective change, and said relief from fixed-term costs such as council rates should also be addressed.
“The focus on additional support for mental health, small business planning and support for parents of school and kindergarten children, is all welcome, as is the expansion of previously announced Drought Infrastructure Grants for central and east Gippsland to include farmers in parts of northern Victoria, Wimmera and the Mallee,” he said.
“The VFF also notes funding allocated for wild pest and animal control and is eager hear how this will be used to speed up processing of cull permits.”
The VFF said today’s announcement followed its earlier call for expanded relief arrangements in parts of the state including Gippsland, the northern region, Mallee and Wimmera, as worsening drought conditions spread further across Victoria.
“The VFF has been lobbying behind the scenes for some months given worsening drought conditions confronting farmers, and welcomes the announcement of additional measures which may provide some relief for communities,” Mr Jochinke said.
“The VFF in particular has been calling for the target area for Drought Infrastructure Grants to be expanded beyond east and central Gippsland, to include other regions facing drought conditions, including the northern region, Mallee and Wimmera.
“While we welcome the government’s extended package, we would again stress the importance of ensuring grants allocated are adequate to offer genuine on-farm relief from drought, while promoting long term preparedness and resilience, while relief from local council rates is also provided,” he said.
“To be frank, when farmers are looking at failed crops and paying thousands of dollars to buy feed for animals, a $1000 infrastructure grant and the time and paperwork it takes to secure it may not be meaningful for effective change.
“A farmer’s variable income takes a significant hit during times of drought, yet at the same time some councils have increased their farm rates bills by as much as 20 to 50 per cent, which flies in the face of the huge impact drought conditions are already having on rural and regional communities,” Mr Jochinke said.
Ms Pulford said the the Andrews Government was backing our farmers across the state, delivering the support families impacted by drought need, and building resilience in other areas impacted by record low rainfall and climate change.
“We know our farmers’ are resilient, capable and innovative, but we need to make sure the support you need is there and that no one goes it alone.”
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