THE system is broken, where the crushing impost of farm rates is concerned, and something has to give.
That was the clear message delivered to Bass Electorate hopefuls at a ‘meet the candidates’ forum organised by the Victorian Farmers Federation in Grantville last Tuesday night.
Sure, they wanted to talk about the lack of local road funding, mental health support, education opportunities, our disgraceful public transport system, telecommunications, the urban sprawl and poor planning, the cost of energy, the impact of climate change and even the threat posed by AGL’s gas import terminal to Western Port.
But they came back time and time again to farm rates and the unfair burden carried by farmers.
Independent candidate Ronnie Bauer of Phillip Island was the first to mention rates, but he was moaning about the relative cost of rates in Bass Coast compared to what he pays in Melbourne.
It’s a familiar refrain from those who own a house in the city and one by the coast.
“My rates in Bass Coast are $2000 more than what I’m paying in Melbourne,” he said.
But Clare Le Serve kicked off the debate saying that while Bass Coast Shire had recently introduced a rate differential for farm land, and other initiatives, “more needs to be done statewide”.
Everyone took a chop at it then with the Liberals’ candidate and sitting member, Brian Paynter saying the Coalition parties had promised an independent inquiry into farm rates in Victoria if the Coalition wins government on November 24.
Polling reveals that this is a longshot with Labor well in front and so far, not committed to changing how rates are levied on farming land in Victoria.
Newly elected President of the Bass Coast Branch of the VFF, Neville Chapman, wants the local shire and government to go all the way on farm rates.
“You all say that farm land is valuable and that it should be protected well if you really believe that, don’t charge rates on farming land at all,” he said when posing a question to the candidates.
“The system has got to change,” he said, noting that the high level of rates had forced people off the land on Phillip Island and in coastal areas, in particular.
He favours a system where farmers only pay rates on the value of their house with the rates on the farm portion either dropped completely or heavily discounted in line with the rates on commercial property.
VFF President David Jochinke was also in attendance and acknowledged that while roads, health and education constantly came up at the VFF forums around the state, “rates is a huge one right across the state”.
“I urge you to follow through on what has been discussed tonight. Take it up with the candidates and also keep them up to it when the election is over,” he told a packed Grantville Hall.
Later in the week, he officially welcomed the Coalition’s initiative.
“The Coalition’s announcement of an inquiry into rates is the first sign any of the major parties or candidates have heard farmers’ repeated calls that ‘enough is enough’ on the issue of
Victoria’s unfair and unsustainable rating system, and the VFF welcomes this,” Mr Jochinke said.
“The commitment to an independent inquiry on rates represents a significant breakthrough for the VFF’s 2018 state election campaign, but farmers will still be seeking further details and definite timelines in relation to any review.”
According to the Coalition’s announcement, the terms of reference will direct that the inquiry must deliver actionable recommendations that help to make rates fair for farmers across Victoria, with rates to be capped while the review is carried out.
Farm rates revolution is coming, they say