War of words over emergency water funding

Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt (right) has announced a 12 month extensio nfor funding, from the Australian Government's On-farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme. Picture: FILE

By Aaron Goodwin

While farmers are welcoming an announcement of an extension of emergency water funding, the State and Federal Governments have teed off at each other, over broken drought-relief promises.

Growcom, the peak body representing the Queensland horticulture industry, has welcomed an announcement from Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt that growers impacted by drought will have another 12 months to apply for funding from the Australian Government’s On-farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme (EWIRS).

However, concerns remain for Growcom, who say that Queensland growers might miss out on the national support with no signal or intent from the Palaszczuk Government on signing up to the scheme and matching the investment made by the Australian Government.

“There is a worrying trend emerging in the way the Queensland Government is managing its drought assistance to industry, and in administering emergency water rebates in particular, which has led to a lack of confidence among growers”, said Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard.

“Through the last round of Federal funding growers of permanent tree crops in Queensland missed out entirely.

”They applied and made investments in emergency water infrastructure in good faith, only to find out the funds in Queensland had been overspent.

“Though it turned out to be only academic because our industry received no support, we understand Queensland was also the only state or territory not to stump up matching funds for permanent tree crops through the Federal program.”

Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said farmers will now have until June 2022 to utilise the $50 million in funding secured for the EWIRS by the Coalition Government in the 2020-21 Budget.

“This is great news for drought affected farmers as these rebates allow farmers to take proactive steps to ensure their properties remain drought resilient,” Mr Pitt said.

“The scheme can be used to fund small scale on-farm drought proofing water projects, including buying and laying pipes, installing water storage devices, such as tanks and troughs associated with stock watering and desilting dams and water bores.

“All we need now is for the Queensland State Labor Government to sign up to the program so Queensland farmers can access this funding.

“While the program was and continues to be funded by the Federal Government, it was managed by the Queensland State Labor Government, which allowed the program to be heavily oversubscribed and farmers left out of pocket.

“I want to assure those local farmers who have already invested money in good faith that once Queensland signs up to this program that they will be prioritised to be reimbursed.

“It’s a pity our farmers are still waiting even after more than half a year for their Labor State Government to commit to the scheme.”

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, Mark Furner said that unlike the Federal Government, the Queensland Government has consistently paid a 50 percent Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate since Queensland created the EWIR back in 2013.

”The Federal Government temporarily added its own EWIR copy, but withdrew funding for its 25 percent top-up from 2015 until 2018, and only provided a fixed amount of money when it recommitted, which quickly ran out,” Mr Furner said.

”Queensland of course, kept paying for its EWIR with a further $4.9 million paid by Queensland since the federal funds were exhausted.

”Now Mr Pitt has the nerve to make restored Federal funding contingent on Queensland stumping up more money, even though we still continue to pay our 50 percent rebate.

”Will the Federal Government apologise to the thousands of Queensland farmers who missed out or, better still, finally backpay them their 25 percent top-up?

”The Federal Government needs to stop playing politics with drought-stricken Queensland farmers.

”Under Governments of either party, Queensland’s EWIR scheme has historically been focused on infrastructure to sustain livestock and animal welfare rather than sustaining horticulture crops.”

For more information about the scheme, head to: www.agriculture.gov.au/water/national/on-farm-infrastructure-rebate