NATURE, FARMERS AND POLITICIANS COLLIDE OVER FEDERAL FLOOD FUNDING GRANTS

Politicians are good at “grandstanding” about grants available to businesses and farmers to help them recover from the devastating floods – $50,000 for businesses and $75,000 for farmers.

While our state and federal members seem reluctant to help some affected farmers, the Labor MP for Macquarie, Susan Templeman has spoken up – 

“Six months down the track and facing a predicted wet spring and summer, some affected farmers are still in limbo waiting for assistance from the $18.5 million the Morrison Government to help landowners do post-flood remediation work.”  

Two local farmers share their experiences with local politicians and government bureaucracy. 

Lindsay Mitchell moved to his farm 24 years ago determined to be a successful beef cattle producer. He  also intended to be self-sufficient, living on a part superannuation pension and his income from the farm. Over the years he improved the farm from what was a very run-down property to a productive farm, breeding his own Angus cattle.

Noel Kohlbach, his neighbour, is a dairy farmer whose family has been dairying on this property since 1901.

 Things were going well until the Manning Valley and the rest of NSW began slipping into drought in 2019. As the drought intensified all the farm dams in the surrounding area dried up. The Manning River, although over 40klms from the ocean, turned to salt. 

Noel’s bore ran dry so he had no water for his milking herd and cows and calves were dying.  (A dairy cow, in summer, can drink 70 litres per day.) Noel would need to bring in a tanker loaded with water every two days to provide for his cows which was economically impossible. 

The two neighbours worked together to stave off the crisis, urgently sharing water and feed resources.  Fortunately Lindsay’s bore was still functioning.  Friends and neighbours stepped in to help install a water trough. Pipe was delivered overnight from Queensland, and a local man from Wingham turned up with his trencher and 650 metres of pipe and the plumbing and infrastructure was laid the next day. 

A trough was installed so Noel could keep his cows and calves alive. As the drought worsened, pasture turned to dust and feed for the cows became scarce and expensive. Lindsay, being a beef cattle farmer, was able to downsize, but dairy farmers can’t reduce their milking herd, so Lindsay offered Noel the use of his river flats to help him get back on his feet. 

Recovering after a severe drought is very slow and just when things were starting to improve, the March 2021 flood hit. 

Half of Lindsay’s farm went under water. Irrigation was washed down the river, his bridges were knocked out making parts of the property inaccessible and fences were torn down. He had no breeding cows to restock. 

Noel fared far worse. His small acreage at Glenthorne where he raises replacement heifers suffered as the floodwaters rose so fast that his property was soon engulfed. 

Noel’s property is near Martins Bridge which was closed because the carriageway was under water. Noel watched in horror as 33 heifers were washed away. He had raised these heifers since birth and knew each one by name. The loss took a heavy toll on his mental health.

 The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has estimated the damage to Noels property to be $240,000. For Lindsay’s property the estimate was $60,000. 

Lindsay applied for the “flood recovery grant”. However his application was refused because of he had a part superannuation pension.

Noel also applied for the grant. He too was refused. The reason given was that he had not submitted his returns to the ATO. However Noel had contacted the ATO and advised them that he was having difficulty with his tax because of drought, bushfires and then a major flood. The ATO said they were not concerned about the late tax returns given the circumstances! 

Noel and Lindsay believe that The Rural Assistance Authority (RAA), the bureaucracy that processes the flood grants, was using Noels tax returns as an excuse to decline his application. 

All of Lindsay’s enquiries were redirected from department to department. Hurdles were thrown in the way and no one seemed to be able to make a decision. Every time Lindsay supplied the figures and documentation asked for, another hurdle was presented, until it came down to one issue;  he was being penalised for having a superannuation part pension.

Lindsay sought help from his Federal Member, Dr David Gillespie. Dr Gillespie was unable to meet with Lindsay. His office directed him to the MidCoast Council. A council officer, who is funded by the Government on a two year contract to assist in the flood relief, advised Lindsay that she only deals with community groups and not individuals, and there was no one else at Council who could help individuals. 

Lindsay then contacted his local Member, Stephen Bromhead MP, posing the question to Mr Bromhead; “Should I be penalised because I have a part superannuation pension” ?(Which essentially is his own money). 

Mr Bromhead MP did not answer the question. Lindsay suspects Mr Bromhead knew he was dealing with a “political hot potato” so Bromhead quickly passed it on to another agency, “Resilience NSW”. 

Resilience NSW

Resilience NSW advised Lindsay by phone (using a hidden number) that they could only help if his farmhouse was flooded. They knew nothing of his question about his superannuation. 

Lindsay asked if they could put their reply in writing to him. They answered, as did all the other departments, “No, they would not be putting anything in writing”.

No information was forthcoming from the RAA to The Manning Community News, as such information is considered being of a personal nature. 

Lindsay and Noel have subsequently been told from another source that several hundred applications have been either rejected or not processed by the Rural Assistance Authority (RAA).

DM

(The farmers are wondering how much interest is accruing on the millions the Morrison government must be sitting on.)

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