The Nationals Senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie, is seeking bi-partisan support to get promised funds to farmers who have sold up under the Federal Government’s stalled Farm Exit Grant Scheme.
Senator McKenzie said it is imperative that she is able to bring cases of real hardship to the attention of the Minister.
“This is particularly in light of assurances given during Senate Estimates hearings that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is committed to finding more funds for the scheme, if possible,” she said.
This follows on the back of Senator McKenzie’s questioning of Minister Ludwig on September 15th regarding why the Farm Exit grant Scheme ran out of money after only six weeks, and what the Government intended doing about farming families left in the lurch by his Department’s apparent failure to Budget appropriately for the program.
The Minister replied: “If there are individual cases, then Senator McKenzie can bring those up to my office and we can have a look at what circumstances those individuals may be in at that particular time.
“I will not take it on advice that there are people in that circumstance, but if there are individuals then that advice could be provided to my office and we can have a look at those individual circumstances.”
“Senator Ludwig undertook to look at individual cases raised,” Senator McKenzie said, “but despite repeated approaches to Senator Ludwig’s office, the promised meetings have not taken place.
“This apparent oversight was an issue highlighted last night at Senate Estimates for the Rural and Regional Affairs Committee by Deputy Senate Leader of the Nationals, Fiona Nash, who sought clarification from the Minister on when he would meet with me.
“Farming families are suffering real hardship because they were promised financial relief to get off the land after years of drought and flood, only to have the rug pulled from under them when the scheme folded through lack of funds just six weeks into the current financial year.
In answer to a question by Senator Nash, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, Senator Farrell assured the Chamber that the failure to meet was not a “fob off.”
“If Senator Ludwig committed to meeting them (Exit grant Scheme applicants) I am sure that is what he intends to do,” Senator Farrell said.
“I cannot commit for him, but I shall raise the issue with him and come back to you with a response.”
Senator McKenzie said she welcomed the prospect of a meeting, but stressed that she did not want to use the Minister’s office as a drop box for stressed farming family cases, but would rather agree to work together and find a solution.
“These grants are very important, because when the farm goes under the hammer, the family home goes with it,” Senator McKenzie said.
“So far, the Gillard Government has not shown sufficient interest in hearing about the very real issues of regional Australia.
“I am sure I can articulate them to the Minister at the proposed meeting with my constituents from regional Victoria.”