THE Victorian dairy sector is being urged to vent concerns about the grass-roots roll-out of the federal government’s industry assistance package unveiled earlier this year in response to the farm-gate pricing crisis.
Victorian Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie is overseeing four roundtable meetings in various regional locations this week in her home state, to gather critical feedback with the backing of federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce.
Dairy farmers are being asked to express their views on how the Coalition government’s $579 million dairy assistance package is being managed to support those impacted by a sudden reduction in farm-gate milk prices.
The issue flared up in April this year, and became controversial during the federal election campaign, when the government was in care-taker mode, after Murray Goulburn and Fonterra slashed milk price returns to producers without warning.
The first meeting hosted by Senator McKenzie was held today at Tangambalanga in north-eastern Victoria with another one to follow tomorrow at Congupna in the Goulburn Valley region.
Another forum will be held on Thursday at Morwell in the Latrobe Valley in eastern Victoria and another the following day at Camperdown in southwestern Victoria.
Senator McKenzie said the industry roundtable meetings were “further evidence of the Coalition government’s commitment to support Australia’s dairy farmers”.
She said $45.5m in Dairy Recovery Concessional Loans had been approved for Victorian dairy farmers with 378 of them currently receiving the Farm Household Allowance – an increase of 263 since May 2 this year.
“Under the Coalition government more than $567m in concessional loans have been approved to 1072 farm businesses Australia wide and more than 6750 farmers have been granted Farm Household Allowance, including 1907 in Victoria,” she said.
“The Coalition is getting assistance out the door and it is hitting the ground to help farmers in need.
“By comparison, there was no support for dairy farmers under the former Labor government when, in 2009, milk prices were actually lower than they are today.
“Under Labor only eight concessional loans were approved and only 367 farming families were receiving a support payment when the Coalition came to office in September 2013.
“I am keen to hear from as many farmers, farming groups and those in the industry as possible in the local region as possible to get wide-ranging views on the level of assistance to farming families and how effective the current system is in delivering it.”
In a Facebook message with Senator McKenzie, Mr Joyce said he wanted to make sure government worked with industry and there were “strong connections to the issues and strong connections to the results”.
“We’ve been through some tough times, especially in Victoria; we’re starting to make our way back (but) we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
The federal government’s dairy assistance package was handed down in late May and included $2m in funding to implement a new milk pricing index to increase transparency for producers.
It also contained $900,000 for nine additional Rural Financial Counsellors in Victoria, Tasmania, SA and NSW.
The assistance package was fine-tuned after Mr Joyce visited north-east Victoria and other regions conducting face to face meetings with dairy farmers and industry representatives, to gauge their feedback on potential support measures.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has accused the Turnbull government of being slow to respond and take action, in response to the dairy crisis.
Victorian dairy industry roundtables this week
Monday 10.30am at Tangambalanga Community Centre
Tuesday 10.30am at Congupna Community Centre
Thursday 10.30am at Morwell Bowling Club
Friday 10.30am at Camperdown Football Netball Club
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