AGFORCE president Brent Finlay has slammed the Federal Government in the wake of the long-awaited announcement of additional recovery arrangements for regional Queensland, labelling the latest shift towards Category D assistance for flood-affected farmers as “too little, too late”.
On Wednesday, Federal Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig announced Category D Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements for 33 Queensland Local Government Areas, including the Central Highlands. But Mr Finlay said the announcement came on the back of intense lobbying by AgForce and fell well short of what they were asking for.
The announcement lifted the limit on concessional loans available to farmers from $250,000 to $650,000, with a $50,000 grant component. Loans will be offered over a 10-year period with the first two years being interest and repayment free.
However, Mr Finlay said the Federal Government had let down flood-affected producers due to the length of time taken for them to act, and pointed out that concessional loans alone were not enough to save many from financial ruin.
“The Federal Government has failed to deliver employer wage subsidies or access to the Commonwealth Queensland Rural Resilience Fund, which includes Operation Clean Up, to flood-impacted producers, even though the assistance was available to those impacted by Cyclone Yasi,” he said.
“This is simply not enough to assist primary producers and regional communities on the long road to recovery, considering it could be 12 months or more before many producers impacted by flood could start generating an income stream.
“Why has it taken so long? It has been three months since the first flood event in Queensland and Cyclone Yasi victims were granted Category D assistance within two weeks.”
Queensland Farmers’ Federation chief executive Dan Gilligan said it was bizarre the latest Category D NDRRA for flood victims did not match those announced for cyclone-impacted areas two weeks ago.
“It is unclear if the 13 week Employer Wage Assistance option in the Cyclone Yasi package is now available for flood areas and we will need to see this rectified,” he said. “However, it has taken too long to get to this point and it is time to move on. We will have to just work within this maddening system to bend it towards a common sense approach that supports a swift return to farm productivity.”
Federal Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd said he was disappointed Central Highlands farmers were not initially offered similar assistance to North Queensland, and declared the announcement as a positive.
“I went into bat for our farmers knowing there was a lot more damage out here than in the north,” he said. “Once they gave it to Yasi victims… it started a procession of people ringing me up, including mayors of the shires, saying ‘if it’s good for them, it’s good for us’.”
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