Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews visits the Millewa during the week to deliver a multi-million dollar relief package for drought-stricken regions of the State. Mr Andrew spent time with Millewa farmer Ian Arney, and made the announcement alongside other dignitaries including Agriculture Minister, Jaclyn Symes, Federal member for Mildura, Ali Cupper, and Mildura Mayor, Simon Clemence.

Photos: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

 VICTORIAN Premier Daniel Andrews has personally delivered financial relief to drought-stricken Millewa farmers as the situation facing local cockies reaches breaking point. 

Flying into Mildura late Wednesday afternoon, Premier Andrews’ visit to the region followed a trip to the equally dry east and central Gippsland regions, where earlier in the day he, and Agriculture Minister, Jaclyn Symes, met with farmers and the community to announce a $31million drought relief package. 

As part of the package, which will be shared by those affected in the Millewa, the Government will establish a $15million Farmers’ Drought Fund to help farming businesses and families most in need, while also ensuring farmers have the long-term support they need in coming months and years.

The fund will provide household financial relief for families in the Millewa and other areas hit hard by drought, with $3million to deliver hardship payments of up to $3000 per family, taking pressure off household costs.

About half of farmers in the Millewa took up the current drought infrastructure grant program to reduce their bills, save energy and store water – the Farmers’ Drought Fund continues that work, with $12million in grants to ensure the long-term future of farming with drought infrastructure and business planning.

The package also includes $5.2million in Local Government Service Support Payments, which will be provided to Mildura Council as well as in Gippsland to help councils meet the immediate needs of their communities.

Additionally, there will also be $2.3million in farm business management and planning support provided, $2million for mental health services and $1.25million for local projects and events to help keep communities strong.

“We would love to be here under better circumstances. We have covered quite a few ‘kays’ today, which shows you the challenging conditions, whether it be in central and east Gippsland, or all the way up here in the north-west of the State,” Premier Andrews said.

“The $31million drought package we announced today is all about practical, common sense support for families doing very tough, but also for business assistance – those who are planning and making some really difficult decisions in the short, medium and long-term.” 

The Premier said farmers were enduring two or more bad seasons in a row, something his Government was acutely aware of.

“We know that conditions are becoming more challenging, and the bad years are coming closer together – it’s tough, very tough,” he said.

“There are some immediate needs to address, and there is $15million worth of grants, in terms of personal hardship of $3000, as well as other grants for infrastructure, and particularly for this part of drought-affected Victoria there are vouchers (up to $10,000) to maintain and repair equipment. 

“That is to ensure that equipment is safe and ready to go when there is a crop and we do get rainfall, and do have a decent season.”

The Premier said that the structure of the package had been created in direct consultation with farmers and the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) president, David Jochinke, who was also on the ground in the Millewa for the visit.

“As a result of working with David, and listening to Ian Arney (Millewa farmer) and families like his, there is a whole range of different elements to this package and they come from that direct dialogue – with listening to farmers, listening to regional communities,” he said.

The Premier paid tribute to the farmer’s ability to grow crops under conditions that he said years ago would have been unsustainable.

“Today we’ve been looking at paddocks of barley that will deliver about 400 kilos to the hectare, that’s with just 45mm of rain,” he said.

“There are expected outcomes of about two-and-a-half tonnes to the hectare. It is quite amazing that anything is being grown at all with such low rainfall. 

 

Important to know

“I think it’s really important for people in the city to know and understand that our farmers are getting yields and outcomes that their parents and grandparents wouldn’t even have dreamed of getting off 45mm of rain.

“Our farmers are innovative, they are high-tech, they work really hard to be as efficient as they possibly can be, but every now and then, if you don’t get any rain, that’s going to make life very challenging.”

The Premier made a point of saying that the drought relief was an investment in a stronger more sustainable agricultural future.

“This is not charity – this is an investment in a stronger ag sector – one that we will all benefit from,” he said. “Agriculture in this State is worth the best part of $10billion, and if our regional communities, particularly our farming communities, are not doing well, and are not supported, then every Victorian will pay a price for that.

“We’re not pleased to be here today – we would much rather be able to report that there had been rainfall and that things were going much better – but when needed, we will always stand with the community like this one.     

“If we need to do more next year, we will be back here. If more money, more support next year or the year after is needed, then we will be with those communities that need us most.”

Minister Symes said that it was a comprehensive package targeted to the areas of the State that needed the most assistance, particularly the north west.

“There is financial support for the Mildura Rural City Council, we know that Councils are on the ground every day providing services and wanting to work with their country communities,” she said.

“There is $420,000 for them to provide direct support to farmers in the best way they see fit, and a further $250,000 to put into the community infrastructure and events to build community resilience.”

Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence said Council was very appreciative for the Government’s initiative in providing the drought relief package. 

“These Millewa farmers have been in drought for two years. They’ve basically held on for the first year hoping for rain in the second year and haven’t put their hand up for help until quite recently, and that was really only a month ago,” he said.

“We recently met with the farmer’s group and discussed issues around the $1million of Federal funding that we have also been given and how best to spend that, and we’re working through the responses and we will do the same with the State funding as well.”

Asked if that might include relief from rates, Cr Clemence said everything was on the table.

“They don’t wish to be a burden on ratepayers, so they aren’t asking for total rate relief, but by the same token, we obviously want to do as best we can for them, with the money the government has provided,” he said.