Meetings have achieved little

December 20, 2017

Farmers attending a round-table discussion on dairy support at Congupna 12 months ago. How much has been achieved since?

Today marks 12 months since the Dairy Roundtable meeting was held in Congupna.

These meetings were touted by the National Party as listening and acting on the crisis in the dairy industry that was by then already eight months old.

In theory those chairing the meetings — Senator Bridget McKenzie assisted by Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum and a contingent of senior public servants — were on a mission to listen to the concerns of those affected and report back to Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

I attended the meeting along with a good cross-section of other farmers and volunteer service providers to the industry.

After having listened to an address by each panel member, questions were taken from the floor. Many of the questions were in relation to problems that desperate farmers were having in trying to access the much touted Farm Household Assistance (FHA) package, particularly farm owners and operators who were not Australian citizens — especially those from New Zealand.

Historic low farm gate returns had prevented some of these people being eligible for citizenship.

This was an issue that had been brought to the attention of Senator McKenzie prior to the meeting and I had also made Damian Drum aware in a meeting that I had with him in August 2016.

Senator McKenzie stood up to answer a question on this and said she had hoped to have the answer for that day but was expecting to hear a favourable change to the eligibility criteria if not that day then certainly within a day or two.

Well, here we are 12 months later and still no action.

In the 12 months of further inaction by government to this human and economic crisis, we have seen a variety of agency and Senate Inquiry findings delivered that, like the government, have delivered no solution or action to the issues.

Today Fonterra has announced a cut to its forecast final season price. Forecasts indicate that next season’s milk prices are likely to drop.

Some people were able to access FHA which has a term of availability of three years maximum.

In the region I’m led to believe that around 600 farmers have lost that entitlement as they were already on FHA before the crisis hit.

If next season’s price drops, new participants will lose access during depressed prices and, as the FHA is a defacto drought aid scheme, if weather conditions deteriorate there will be no safety net for those who have used up their eligibility.

There is already two volunteer groups in Victoria delivering basic help to farming families: Northern Victorian Farmer Rally and Gippsland Farmer Relief.

I call on the government to immediately make available $150000 to each of these groups and with funding for the start-up of a similar group in the Western District.

These groups should receive two years’ additional funding of $100000 for the following two years until longer-term solutions for the industry can be implemented.

Surely now with a Victorian Senator being Deputy Leader of the National Party and the Member for Murray being the party whip, they can act to support this major industry. Or are their claims merely talk?

— Nigel Hicks

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