Neville Chapman, a Glen Alvie farmer and president of Victorian Farmers Federation Bass Coast branch, says he’ll continue to push for a fairer rate differential for farmers.
By Gav Ross
FARMERS are less than thrilled with the first real offer of rate relief from Bass Coast Shire Council.
The council’s new rating strategy will be open for public consultation for just a few short weeks, with the community asked to comment on five distinct options.
Two of the five options offer a rating structure with a farm rate differential of 80 or 90 per cent, meaning either a 10 or 20 per cent reduction of the current rate.
Speaking after a special council meeting last week where the discussion paper was released, Glen Alvie farmer and president of the Victorian Farmers’ Federation (VFF) Bass Coast branch, Neville Chapman, described the measly rate discounts proposed as nothing less than “a total insult”.
“A 10 per cent reduction is like peeing into the wind, especially if rates go up by over six per cent this year anyway,” he said, bluntly.
“That sort of reduction isn’t going to do anything to help us.”
Mr Chapman said he paid around $5500 in rates this financial year for his 460 acre property in Glen Alvie.
And compared to some other farmers in the shire – especially those in coastal areas – he considers himself lucky.
“I know a farmer at Inverloch who pays a massive amount of rates just because his cattle have got a view of the water, but his soil is pretty bloody ordinary,” he said.
Farmers have been crying out for a differential rate in Bass Coast for years, but it appears they won’t settle for any old percentage.
Mr Chapman said he’ll be lobbying for a reduction far greater than what is in the discussion paper.
“I’d say we’ll probably start at trying to get it to 60 per cent,” he said.
“That would make it square.
“If we don’t get the amount we want I would like to think that there will be an ongoing reduction over the next period of years to get us to this fair percentage of 60 per cent.”
“All we’re asking for is rates be brought to a level field – for all ratepayers to pay the same amount.”
Farmers represent just 3.6 per cent of all rateable properties in the shire, but pay 7.5 per cent of all rates and charges.
More than 50 of Victoria’s 79 councils have introduced a differential farm rate, with Bass Coast the only rural council in Victoria yet to follow suit.
During initial talks about the new rating strategy last May, Cr Clare Le Serve said setting the farm rate between 65 to 70 per cent of the general rate was a goal to strive for.
“I’d like to see a differential rate that would not be an insult to the farming community,” she had said.
Unfortunately, it seems that is exactly what has happened.
During debate at last week’s meeting, Cr Le Serve said the farming community had been lobbying for change a long time and she would like to see a higher reduction than what has been proposed.
Phillip Island farmer and member of council’s Rural Engagement Group, Bill Cleeland, said the differential rates proposed in the discussion paper are a start “but nowhere near enough to make a real difference”.
“It’s definitely moving forward but 20 per cent is not going to be enough,” he said, noting that farmers on Phillip Island received a rate reduction of 40 per cent just prior to amalgamation in the mid-90s.
“(The amounts proposed) is just tinkering around the edges; it’s not going to make any real difference to the viability of farmland in this shire.
“There’s still plenty of discussion to be held on this.
“As far as I understand it, this is just a discussion paper, but I was disappointed by what has been (proposed).”
Farmers ‘led down the garden path’
Meanwhile, former MP Alan Brown said he believes the council has “absolutely no intention” of delivering a differential rate for farmers.
He said comments from Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Kimberley Brown, in a recent Mayoral column had both insulted and enraged farmers.
“The council established a Rural Engagement Group years ago to liaise with local farmers to work through the issue of implementing a differential rate for farmers which is in place in shires Victoria-wide,” he said.
“The Mayor said in her column ‘The Rural Engagement Group met on Friday giving me the opportunity to speak with and hear from local farmers’.
“What an insult!
“Like the former council, the Mayor and her colleagues have heard loud and clear from local farmers for years now exactly what they need and have got absolutely nowhere.
“The view of farmers who contacted me recently is that they are being deceived and misled by the present council and I totally agree with them.
“Even though they have heard the issue loud and clear, the present council has squandered the past two years on this issue.”