VICTORIA’S Agriculture Minister has, for the first time, definitively ruled out state government intervention to relieve the rate burden on the state’s farmers.
On ABC Gippsland radio last Wednesday morning – ahead of the official announcement of a $31 million drought assistance package for East and Central Gippsland – the Hon. Jaclyn Symes told presenter Jonathon Kendall it was not the state government’s place to decide how much farmers should pay in rates.
The state government was happy to give money to local councils to “alleviate cost pressures on farmers,” she said, but was not prepared to “dictate” how that should be done.
“Rates are set by local councils; they’re
collected by local councils; and we don’t think it’s appropriate for the state government to directly intervene in that process,” Ms Symes told the ABC.
Asked if she was “closing the door” on the possibility of rate relief for farmers, Ms Symes came as close as she ever has in confirming this, saying she was “much more attracted” to a method which “provides flexibility for councils to direct [state government assistance] to the farmers most in need”.
“Rates are a matter for councils, not a matter for state government,” she said.
“We like to work together with councils, but we have our own responsibilities.”
It’s a much clearer stance than the one Ms Symes took earlier this year, telling the Sentinel-Times whilst on a farm visit at Loch in June that the Andrews Government was awaiting the results of the state-wide Local Government Rating System Review before making any decisions on farm rates.
“[Local Government] Minister [Adem] Somyurek is undertaking a rates review across the state, and certainly in the lead up to the [2018 Victorian state] election, differential rates was something that was raised by the VFF (Victorian Farmers Federation), and so the commitment prior to the election was that the rate review would be able to look at those issues,” she said at the time.
That review is still going, and the VFF is still hoping input from farmers will make an impact.
Describing the current rating system as “broken,” VFF president David Jochinke is urging farmers to attend public forums being held as part of the review, such as the one coming up this Thursday, October 10, at Traralgon’s Premiere Function Centre.
“Farmers want to contribute to their communities, but they cannot continue to be burdened with such an unfair portion of local government rates,” said Mr Jochinke said last week.
“I strongly encourage all farm ratepayers in the district to attend the public forum and share their story about how unfair rates are impacting their businesses and livelihoods.”