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Horticulture welcomes outposted drought support

Horticulture Australia Council (HAC), the peak national body representing horticultural industries, welcomes the announcement of the out-posting of a Centrelink officer to HAC, to assist industry with advice on drought and Exceptional Circumstances support.

HAC chair, Stuart Swaddling, says “The recent changes announced by the previous Government to Exceptional Circumstances (EC) mean that for the first time, growers in difficulty may actually be eligible for some assistance in this worst-ever drought.

“The current situation in the lower Murray Darling Basin is grim, with many growers being forced to bulldoze blocks of orchards/vineyards, or turn off the water to them in order to try and keep vital blocks alive. The lower Basin is fast becoming a “mosaic” of bare blocks, dying trees and vines, and growing plantings.

“Our people aren’t used to taking hand-outs from the Government; nor are they familiar with all the criteria and the plethora of forms. Of course, not everyone will be eligible for assistance, but the recent changes to EC are a significant step forward.

“Centrelink’s Murray Darling Basin Unit have kindly offered to outpost their new Canberra based Rural Service Officer to HAC for two days a week for the next few months.

“David Green will be joining HAC from 17 December on Tuesdays and Thursdays until the middle of February, when the situation will be reviewed. His number is: (02) 6273 8115; and there is an answering machine to take messages on the other days, so that David can return calls.

“David will be providing advice and support to Peak Industry Bodies who have queries about drought assistance on behalf of their members; and also to growers direct (who can ask David to return their call to minimize costs). This service should be of major assistance to those unfamiliar with the EC and drought support system.

“We are very concerned about the conditions in the lower part of the Basin in particular, and Kris Newton (our CEO) and I will be visiting these areas before Christmas to assess the situation for ourselves.

“We hope the new Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry, Tony Burke, will also be able to make time in the new year to see the situation first-hand.”

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