Council Given $1 Million In Drought Funding, But They Don't Want It
A Victorian council has been given $1 million to help weather the effects of drought, but they've hit back saying they don't want it.
Moyne Shire Council in the state's south-west was surprised to be named one of 13 new recipients of funding under the federal government's Drought Communities Programme.
Other areas in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania were also added to the list of 123 councils named as eligible for up to $1 million in funding "to support local infrastructure and other projects for communities and businesses who have been impacted by drought".
The only sticking point is, Moyne's council says it doesn't need the money, and didn't apply for it.
Jim Doukas, one of the shire's councillors, told 10 daily the area was not being particularly affected by the relentless drought which has choked many rural parts of the country.
"The whole shire is having a good season, some parts are having an exceptional season," he said.
David Jochinke, president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, said he wondered if the allocation was a "mix up".
READ MORE: How You Can Help Drought-Stricken Farmers
"It's in a far better position than a lot of parts of the state, and NSW and QLD. I'm not sure why it's been allocated there," he told 10 daily.
"When you compare areas with a lot more need and see who has received funding so far, this appears to be a total outlier."
"It doesn't seem right."
The money for Moyne has kicked off a major agriculture policy meltdown, with the government forced to defend its decision to splash the cash on the council -- in the electorate of federal Nationals MP and education minister Dan Tehan -- against attacks from the opposition.
"It's inconceivable the money could be given to a council which itself says it doesn't need the money," Labor's shadow agriculture minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, told ABC News.
Another Moyne councillor, Colin Ryan, told ABC "we're not drought-affected. We don't need the money for drought reasons and I believe it should be redirected to more deserving areas of Australia."
10 daily has contacted the office of water resources and minister David Littleproud's office about Doukas' claim that his shire may have received the funding due to a mixup between Moyne and another similarly-named council in Victoria.
Littleproud defended the funding for Moyne, saying the areas that were allocated money were chosen based off Bureau of Meteorology rainfall predictions.
“They drought map each shire and as at the 30th of June, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, 62 per cent of that shire was in drought," he said.
Littleproud said he would ask for "a forensic audit" of the BOM's data collection to ensure it was correct, but BOM outlook predictions do show that the area around Moyne, near Warrnambool, has only a 30 percent of exceeding the average rainfall for the coming summer period. Rainfall at Moyne's nearest weather station, Port Fairy, has been below average in seven of the nine months this year, including its driest January on record.
But councillor Doukas said his council simply doesn't need the money.
"We're not in that predicament. It'd be nice to get $1 million but look at what's going on in the north of the state. Those poor buggers need it more than we do," he said.
"If the money comes to us and we don't need it, I don't want to pre-empt what the council will do, but it should go to another part of the state. Look at the Murray River region, those people could do a lot better with that money than what we can."
Labor's Fitzgibbon has also questioned why some areas, like Singleton and parts of the Eden-Monaro region, had missed out on funding "when they are clearly impacted by drought."
"Something’s going terribly wrong here," he claimed on ABC radio.
Jochinke claimed the funding fracas could be seen as representative of a wider policy issue with drought assistance.
Countless charities, volunteers, businesses and ordinary citizens are raising money or trying to help drought-stricken communities, in addition to billions of dollars in government assistance, but the Victorian Farmers Federation president said real problems still remained in distributing the funds to the places which need it most.
"At the moment, we've got a framework but not a process to allocate funds by or making sure all parts of the agriculture community are being addressed," Jochinke told 10 daily.
"I mean that in the most sincere way. We've got people wanting to help, but if we've got a potential mixup here, or funds that could be going elsewhere to support people who needed it months ago, it seems backwards."
"We need to have a lot better strategy than we do now. I'm not saying we're not supportive of the help that has come, but we need to be a bit more coordinated with the approach."