Centrelink was labelled a joke and a disgrace at Monday’s dairy roundtable meeting at Tangambalanga involving dairy farmers, and representatives from the departments of Human Services and Agriculture.
About 50 North-East dairy farmers attended the first of four forums across Victoria this week, chaired by Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, to hear from dairy farmers about the delivery of assistance measures, including the Farm Household Allowance.
Many were moved to tears as they told of hardships following the retrospective farmgate milk price cuts in April.
The common theme was that applying for assistance through Centrelink was complicated and bogged down by bureaucratic red tape, while most at the meeting said they were still waiting for their support packages to be processed.
“We applied for assistance for the household allowance because everybody understood, everybody, every dairy farmer, understood what that price drop meant and we all have different structures in businesses so it didn’t take long to work out we needed help,” said Eskdale farmer Karen Moroney, who applied in May and was told this week Centrelink was now processing her application.
Mrs Moroney believed delays were largely because Centrelink staff did not understand the costs and asset structure of the dairy industry.
“I had a raw and real experience of this at a Christmas party when a young couple decided they wouldn’t come in the door because they didn’t have $10, or $20 for a family to buy their meal,” an emotional Pat Glass, who farms with his family at Gundowring, told the meeting.
“Are we doing this all wrong? Should people, as soon as they put an application in, get some cash flow funding, get some cash flow moving and do all the paperwork later?”
“And then if they’ve been overpaid get it back like the HECS fee over the next five years of tax.”
Support worker Ross Smith, of the North East Victoria Farmers Fighting Group, said he heard similar stories from communities across the region.
“It’s not just a one-off thing, these people have withdrawn from the community and it’s very, very distressing,” he said.
Other meetings will be held at Congupna on Tuesday, December 13, Morwell on Thursday, December 15, and Camperdown on Friday, December 16.