After considerable agitation by local farmers, particularly macadamia farmers hit hard by this year’s storms, their situation has finally been acknowledged.
Minister for emergency management Mark Dreyfus and Richmond MP Justine Elliot yesterday announced additional assistance for farmers hit by the January and February 2013 storms in Ballina, Richmond Valley and Byron.
But it is too little too late, according to Australia Macadamia Society CEO Jolyon Burnett, coming as it does almost six months after the storms and at the tail end of the macadamia harvest.
Clean-up and recovery grants of up to $15,000 will be made available to eligible primary producers.
‘This much-needed assistance will provide a boost to our farming sector already facing the long road back to recovery following these devastating events,’ Ms Elliot said.
‘These grants will be in addition to the disaster assistance the government has already made available to farmers in these areas,’ Mr Dreyfus added.
But Mr Burnett is calling for a ‘thorough and comprehensive review’ into what went wrong with the disaster reporting process by NSW DPI, when all of the affected areas of Queensland and most other parts of NSW received their assistance months ago, in some cases just weeks after the storms.
Speaking on ABC radio’s Rural Report this morning, he said that although the payments would be retrospective, they require farmers to show receipts for work done and would unfairly penalise those who, thinking they were not eligible for funding, worked unaided to clear their properties.
‘Some growers have gone to extraordinary lengths to do it themselves without any assistance and there’s no question that it wasn’t done as quickly… or comprehensively as it should’ve been because the assistance wasn’t there,’ he said.
He added that growers would bear additional costs as nut quality is downgraded due to late harvesting as a result of delays caused by the slow clean-up.
Mr Burnett said a further problem with the payments is that eligible farmers must earn at least 50 per cent of their income on farm.
‘It’s not just macadamias that have been through a number of very hard years and there are a lot of bona fide farmers who have had to seek income off farm simply to keep their operations going that may be excluded by that,’ he said.
Category C grants are now available in the 13 local government areas of Ballina, Bellingen, Byron, Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Gloucester, Greater Taree, Kempsey, Lismore, Nambucca, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Richmond Valley and Tweed.
For further information on the grants, including eligibility, refer to the NSW Rural Assistance Authority by calling 1800 678 593, or visit their website at http://www.raa.nsw.gov.au
Further information on Australian government assistance is available at www.disasterassist.gov.au