Kelly calls on PM to address drought pork-barrelling claims

Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly, agriculture minister David Littleproud and Prime Minister Scott Morrison dispute drought-funding allocations. Photo of a farmer in drought: Peter Braig

Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly, agriculture minister David Littleproud and Prime Minister Scott Morrison dispute drought-funding allocations. Photo of a farmer in drought: Peter Braig

Disparity between federal drought-funding eligibility and allocation is leading to rising anger in neglected affected communities such as the Yass Valley, says member for Eden-Monaro, Dr Mike Kelly.

The federal Labor member for the drought-affected region is now calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to respond to claims of pork-barrelling in a Victorian federal electorate.

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Labor's shadow minister for agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon, described Mr Morrison's announcement of $1 million in drought funding to Moyne Shire as "political favouritism".

The Moyne Shire Council, in south-west coastal Victoria, says its region is not in drought. The shire is in the seat of Wannon, held by Dan Tehan of the Liberal Party.

The Yass Tribune found Liberal or National MPs held 12 of the 13 seats in council areas, including Moyne, included in the Drought Communities Program Extension, announced last Friday.

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay told the Tribune that number was no coincidence: "That's intentionally aimed at conservative seats. I think it's unfortunate this has become such a political issue."

Within Dr Kelly's Eden-Monaro electorate, Yass Valley, Queanbeyan and Palerang are drought-declared by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, but none received funding under the extension.

However, Bega Valley in Eden-Monaro successfully bid for some of the $1m funding in an earlier program round.

The Tribune asked the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development why Yass Valley had missed out on funding.

"The Drought Communities Program Extension is available to councils that have been declared eligible," came the response.

"The methodology to determine eligibility takes into account Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) rainfall data over the previous 24 months leading up to 30 June 2019, as well as other economic and industry data, such as the share of agriculture, forestry or fisheries workforce in the area."

The Tribune looked at a BOM map of rainfall deficiencies for the past 17 months. It showed a 'severe deficiency' for Yass Valley and no deficiency for Moyne.

"For six years the government's ad hoc, inadequate and piecemeal response to the drought has been left wanting. Anger in rural communities is understandably on the rise," read a media release from Dr Kelly's office.

"Given an electorate held by the Coalition benefited at the expense of the Labor-held seat Eden Monaro, Scott Morrison needs to reassure people in our local drought-affected communities that there has been no systemic pork barrelling."

Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud defended the allocation of funding.

"...Eligibility is based on [BOM] rainfall data, which the Department of Infrastructure independently maps. That is the basis of advice to the government on areas that are eligible," he said.

Mr Morrison's office was contacted for comment. The response came from Minister Littleproud.

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