A PROMINENT lawyer has cast doubt on Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision making after she rejected an application from flood-affected farmers at Joel Joel for assistance grants worth up to $25,000.
Carla De Campo, a spokeswoman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon who handled the submission with the Prime Minister, said it did not demonstrate farmers would face long-term threats to viability because of a flood in December 2011.
Northern Grampians Shire Council representatives reacted to the Prime Minister’s reasoning with disbelief and accused the Federal Government of ignoring the area because it was in a safe federal electorate.
The flood destroyed livestock worth $264,000 and
farm fencing to the value of $2.8 million and cost some farmers more than $100,000.
After a request from the Mail-Times, natural disaster specialist Senior Counsel Tim Tobin reviewed the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements guidelines, which determine the eligibility for the Category C $25,000 grants.
Mr Tobin said the Prime Minister’s decision did not fit with the disaster relief guidelines.
“The Joel Joel flood met every criteria for Category C funding,” he said.
“The government made a political judgment by saying the flood would not have a long-term effect on the farmers’ viability.”
During the flood five to six inches of rain caused a one to two metre wall of water to sweep across the area.
“The nature and extent of the damage was enormous,” Mr Tobin said.
“Other places which have received these grants did not sustain as much damage as people at Joel Joel.”
The flood was declared eligible for disaster relief in January, but just seven farmers received about $1000 each as part of the arrangements.
After five months of community lobbying, the State Government approved an application for the $25,000 grants, subject to approval by the Prime Minister.
Northern Grampians Mayor Dorothy Patton said the flood severely affected the area’s farming sector.
“The farmers are victims of being in a very safe federal seat,” she said.
“This manifests itself in government decision making and adversely affects the shire.”
Council municipal recovery manager Greg Little, who has worked closely with flood-affected farmers, said the flood severely affected the landholders’ long-term viability.
“Is the Prime Minister waiting for farmers to walk away from their properties before she pays them?” he said.
“After years of droughts and floods these farmers barely have any credit left.”
State Government members and federal Member for Mallee John Forrest have slammed the Prime Minister for rejecting the grants.
Sonia Heath, a spokeswoman for Victorian Emergency Services Minister Peter Ryan, said the Prime Minister was selective on which disaster relief guidelines she followed.
“She has refused Category C activation by citing the outlook of crop production while ignoring stock losses, damage to fencing and grazing pasture,” she said.
Mr Forrest attacked the Federal Government in Parliament on Tuesday for not adequately assisting the farmers.
“There are people in Joel Joel struggling to get their lives back together,” he said.
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