Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Drought: Government Assistance

Victorian Parliament Hansard 10 March 2010

Raised with: Minister for Agriculture

Raised by: Mr Kavanagh

Raised on: 10 March 2010


I refer to the matter that you raised during the Adjournment Debate in the Legislative Council on 10 March 2010, concerning the cessation of drought assistance in South Western Victoria - which is linked to Exceptional Circumstance (EC) declarations.

Until recently, the majority of Victoria was EC declared. EC events are rare and severe events that are outside those that a farmer could normally be expected to manage using responsible farm management strategies. Drought is an example of an EC event. A range of EC declared areas, including South Western Victoria, were set to expire on 31 March 2010 and 30 April 2010.

EC declarations underpin the provision of significant Commonwealth support, including EC Relief Payments and EC Interest Rate Subsidies.

Decisions to grant and extend EC declarations are made by the Commonwealth Government. The National Rural Advisory Council (NRAC) provides independent advice on the need for assistance to the Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

A streamlined review process was introduced to make it easier for farmers who have not experienced a break in the drought to have their EC declarations assessed for a possible extension. Under the review process, NRAC reviews EC declared areas before their expiry date to assess whether an extension to the declaration is warranted. As part of the review NRAC assesses information from a number of sources. If NRAC assesses an area as no longer being in exceptional circumstances, and the Commonwealth Government accepts the advice not to extend the declaration, assistance ceases on the date the declaration ends. If NRAC supports extending the declaration, and the Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry agrees, assistance continues until the new declaration end date.

With regard to the EC declaration for South Western Victoria, NRAC determined that seasonal conditions have allowed the majority of producers to return to typical farm management practices in the area and on this basis recommended that the EC declarations for South Western Victoria cease on 31 March 2010. The Hon. Tony Burke, commonwealth Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, accepted NRAC's advice that conditions have improved in South Western Victoria, and on 25 February 2010 announced that EC assistance would not be extended for this area.

The Victorian Premier John Brumby announced a $47 million drought package on 22 October 2009. The three Victorian initiatives that are linked to EC declarations will still be available to eligible farmers when the EC declaration ceases on 31 March 2010. These are the Municipal Rate Subsidy (MRS) 2009-10, Farm Improvement Grant and the Drought Apprenticeship Retention Bonus 2009-10.

There are other Victorian Government programs available to farmers that do not have EC eligibility requirements. The $205 million Future Farming strategy released in April 2008 invests in programs to improve the ability of farmers to be productive, competitive and sustainable in the future. This strategy includes actions that assist farm families and rural communities to manage change, including the AgFutures Initiatives, Sustainable Farm Families, Case Management for Farmers, and the National Centre for Farmer Health.

At the Commonwealth Government level, there are also a range of programs, including Transitional Income Support (TIS) through the Commonwealth Government's Climate Change Adjustment Program. The income support is paid equivalent to the Newstart Allowance, providing a possible income relief substitute to the EC Relief Payments.

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The Victorian Government will continue to monitor drought impacts in the South Western area and provide appropriate, targeted support which best meets the needs of affected farmers and their communities.

Thank you for raising this matter during the adjournment debate.


Peter Kavanagh MLC
Member for Western Victoria
Parliament of Victoria

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