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Letters to the editor

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December 21, 2017

Dairy farmers desperately need help

DECEMBER 13 marks a year since the Dairy Crisis Roundtable meetings rolled into Congupna in the Goulburn Valley. These meetings were supposedly called in response to the crisis in the dairy industry following drastic price cuts to farm gate prices received by farmers for their milk in April 2016.

Members of the public were given the chance to raise their concerns. Of the crowd, a fair contingent of farm owners and operators were New Zealand citizens, who are ineligible to access the Farm Household Assistance (FHA) package. Having previously been made aware of this issue, Senator Bridget McKenzie stood up to answer one of these questions holding up a piece of paper implying that this anomaly in access to FHA was understood and that she was expecting a positive outcome. I had also raised this issue, along with others, to Member for Murray Damian Drum in a meeting in August 2016.

As I write this on the eve of the 12-month anniversary of the Roundtable meeting, nothing has changed in any positive way. A voluntary code of conduct has, in theory, come into effect, yet as the word voluntary implies it has no teeth to act. The largest processor in the state will likely be sold to a foreign company in the new year. The company that has now become the largest processor in Victoria is delaying its pay statements, as it is reviewing its willingness to pay the price it indicated. We’ve had ACCC and Senate inquiry findings handed down that have delivered nothing. The FHA scheme – despite government announcements that implied otherwise – had already been running for several years. As it is available to those eligible for a maximum of three years, this year saw up to 600 farmers in northern Victoria lose their eligibility for assistance due to time limits.

What’s needed and what can be done? In two of the main dairying regions of the state there is currently a volunteer agency (Northern Victoria Farmer Relief and Gippsland Farmer relief) providing direct food aid to affected families, relying on donations and fundraising activities such as sausage sizzles to raise funds to cover costs and volunteers being out of pocket for expenses.

I call on the government to provide immediate funding of initially $150,000 for each group and funding for the same amount for the set up in the west of the state with ongoing funding of $100,000 p.a. for running costs for the next three years. This will help to deliver immediate support in the communities where it is needed and will enable the hire of suitable premises, vehicle, phones and running costs. This is merely a band-aid that is desperately needed to help until longer-term solutions can be implemented. I also call on the government to assist to implement the National Milk Pool Co-op proposal that I put to government over three years ago and again to the Senate inquiry. This would tip the balance back in favour of the producers and deliver sustainable farm gate prices that would not only save farmers but also the many businesses and communities that are supported by the dairy industry.

I’m yet to meet a farmer who wants welfare, yet many need it. The UDV is predicting already that due to rising costs the average farm will be worse off by $15,000 next year. This is plainly unsustainable. It’s time for the National Party to stop pretending to be the voice of rural and regional Australia and actually do something other than rolling up at meetings and pretending to listen. What better time for them to speak up than now; the Member for Murray is the party whip and the new deputy leader is a Victorian Senator from Bendigo. I’m sick of hearing about this mythical National Party agenda that would appear to be no different than the “Emperor’s clothes’’.

Nigel Hicks, independant candidate for Murray.

Spare a thought, and a gift, for those less fortunate

EACH year Christmas can be anything but joyful for our young people. While you are enjoying your Christmas lunch, opening presents and spending time with loved ones, I ask that you spare a thought for those who will not experience the joy of Christmas this year.

For many, Christmas is a time to spend with family, in a safe home, exchanging gifts and recharging the batteries for the year ahead. But for many more, it is an unbearable reminder of everything they don’t have.

Many of my young people won’t wake up to presents under the tree, be given a delicious lunch, or be able to spend quality time with loved ones, but we are trying to fix that. At Youth Off The Streets we have been collecting food for hampers, as well as gift cards, so that our kids have the chance to receive a gift and delicious food to make a joyful Christmas a reality.

The gift of giving to our disadvantaged young Australians is more than just material presents and food. When I give our kids these gifts, I see their faces light up. They are so happy to be given something where before they had nothing, but most of all they are so happy to know someone cares about them and wants them to experience what Christmas is about — giving to those less fortunate.

This Christmas, if you have the means, consider donating a gift card or donating directly to a charity that helps less fortunate people. It can brighten the day of someone that is constantly being reminded of what they don’t have.

I hope readers have a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year.

Father Chris Riley, chief executive and founder at Youth Off The Streets.

Here’s what’s on the agenda in Parliament

LAST week the following bills were introduced to the Victorian Parliament, which may be of interest to Murray Plains residents:

■Audit Amendment Bill 2017.

■Bail Amendment (Stage Two) Bill 2017.

■Children Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2017.

■Justice Legislation Amendment (Victims) Bill 2017.

■Marine and Coastal Bill 2017.

■Victorian Independent Remuneration Tribunal and Improving Parliamentary Standards Bill 2017.

More information on the proposed bills can be found at parliament.vic.gov.au/legislation.

Please contact my office if you need help accessing this information.

Peter Walsh, Member for Murray Plains.

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