Almost 6,000 farmers have received welfare payments since July last year, with the highest uptake in safe Nationals seats.
National Farmers’ Federation ask if eligibility criteria for loans too strict
Freedom of Information documents show the most farmers to receive the Government’s Farm Household Allowance (FHA) — 95 — were from Griffith, a major citrus and wine grape-growing region in the New South Wales Riverina.
That was followed by 76 in Mitchell, in drought-stricken southern Queensland, and 59 in Red Cliffs in northern Victoria and Glenn Innes in NSW.
The FHA is a fortnightly payment at the Newstart rate, and is available to farmers experiencing financial hardship. They do not have to be in drought to be eligible.
Citrus and wine grapes were once a profitable venture in Griffith, but cheap imports and oversupply have forced many growers out of the market.
Second generation citrus grower Mick Auddino was forced to bulldoze thousands of his orange trees a few years ago.
He said he could not keep up with the consumer demand for new and different varieties.
“You’re looking at five, six years until you start looking at getting money back,” he said.
Having to pull out his trees was heart-wrenching and the situation made him severely depressed.
“My depression got to the stage that I did follow through with a suicide attempt. Unsuccessful, thank God. I’m still here,” he said.
While many of his counterparts have applied for welfare support, Mr Auddino said he never would.
“You have to suck it up. Farming’s a gamble,” he said.
“You are going to have good days and bad days and you’ve got to be right on the ball.”
Welfare inquiries ‘dramatically increase’ after milk price drop
But Mr Auddino sympathises with dairy farmers in Victoria and Tasmania, who want the Federal Government’s support after milk processors Murray Goulburn and Fonterra unexpectedly slashed prices.
The shock announcement a few weeks ago left farmers in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.
Rural financial counsellor Chris Howard, from Shepparton, in north-east Victoria, said there has been a dramatic increase in dairy farmers inquiring about welfare support.”Since January at the start of this year, we had an increase in between three to five inquires each week,” he said.
“But since the milk price drop, we’re seeing an increase in inquires anywhere from 10 to a dozen inquiries per week.”
The Federal Government said it was working on a support package for dairy farmers, likely to involve concessional loans.
But since 2013, it has allocated almost $1 billion in similar drought loans, and less than half that money has been taken up.
Farmers consistently argue the eligibility criteria are too strict, and the application process was too bureaucratic.
National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the Commonwealth and the states keep passing the buck.
“It is not that farmers do not want the loans,” he said.
“Clearly there is criteria in place that people have to satisfy to get the funding. The question is, is that criteria too hard?
“If people cannot get the funding, we need to know why. Is it an asset test? Is it the bureaucracy at the state level?
“We need to investigate that because clearly, with 81 per cent of Queensland still in drought, people are in need of some assistance.”