Monday, 19 September 2011
Murray Electorate: Drought Assistance
The drought that was the worst on record in the central part of my electorate of Murray was a drought that no-one expected ever to see because it was in an irrigation area. The exceptional circumstances drought relief literally put food on the table for hundreds of families, and for many of those families the support continued for more than five years. You can imagine their great financial distress when, with the first rains, the exceptional circumstances support was cut off—even though there was no income with that first rain. For some there was further disaster ahead when the floods came and wiped out over $1 billion worth of livestock and infrastructure.
For a few, there was one last hope in the form of an exceptional circumstances exit grant. This meant that, given they were forced to sell their properties, they could receive some retraining funding of $5,000 to $10,000, some counselling and information about where they might go to support their families in the future and $150,000 which was to be paid to them to help them restart their lives in a different enterprise. Part of the condition of this grant was that they would not return to farming for a number of years.
No small business person, especially a farmer, can readily or easily face the business of selling their farm, but numbers saw this as their only hope to be independent into the future. I want to give you some of the cases that I now have before Minister Ludwig—begging him to understand that you cannot simply withdraw an exit grant in the way that this government did—unconscionably, without warning—when you had, only a few weeks before, announced that it was to be extended until June-July next year.
This particular family has three young children. They live in my electorate in central Victoria. They finally decided they had to sell their farm. A deciding factor was the fact that they would be eligible for this exit grant of $150,000. They were assessed and found to be eligible and were paid the $5,000 of the first instalment of the training grant. You can imagine their extraordinary distress when, having put a deposit on a small, modest home in Bendigo, where they were going to have to move, they were contacted and told it was all off. They were not to receive the exit grant. The government had run out of money. That family is now in deep shock and great financial distress. They owe money on a house they can no longer get any borrowings for to give them a future. The man of the family has three days work. That is the only income to keep food on the table for that family.
There is a second case. They are another young couple. They were pre-assessed and accepted into the EC exit grant scheme. It was a major factor in them deciding to finally sell their property, despite years of hardship in trying to nurse it through, first of all, drought and then flood. These are the words of the financial counsellor who had been advising them through this stage: 'Early last week they had presented at my office, the day following receipt of the letter advising there were no funds to complete their exit grant process. She was crying as she relayed their plight. He excused himself a couple of times to run to the bathroom to vomit. They are long-term clients and their farm had been on the market for 3½ years in an attempt to sell. They have lowered their price several times. Settlement had been delayed three times due to the flood, NVIRP and delay in payment of water sold under the government tenders. They both now suffer extreme and severe stress. Prior to the EC declaration in June 2011 when they contacted Centrelink and rural financial counselling services and politicians they were told again and again they wouldn't miss the deadline for an EC Exit Grant, they were eligible and the deadline had been extended to 30/6/2012.'
Imagine their distress—and I just read you the way they were physically sickened by the news that the grant, despite their farm sale, was not going to come through. As a result they have now no grant but they have left only a nominal deposit on a modest house and they in are exactly the same terrible financial situation they were before they sold the farm.
In another family the farm was sold $80,000 below its value because they were told they were going to receive this grant, they were eligible, they had been approved. They sold the property thinking the $150,000 would make the difference of that reduced sale value because they had had it on the market a long time. That family, too, is in great distress. They do not know where to go nor how they are going to feed their family, given there is very little work in these areas.
This is an unconscionable thing to do. I believe that the scheme for Compensation for Detriment Caused by Defective Administration, the CDDA scheme, must step in and compensate these people, because this has been government maladministration. (Time expired)