BUDGET cuts and rampant red tape are placing unfair pressure on farmers in the Murray Plains electorate — which includes Rochester, Lockington and Nanneella — according to state Nationals leader Peter Walsh.
Mr Walsh, the Member for Murray Plains, said the Victorian government’s 2014 decision to roll the Agriculture Department into the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources was wrong.
He said agriculture was such a crucial part of the local, as well as national, economy, it deserved “its own brand”.
Mr Walsh’s calls come after the release of the Victorian Food and Fibre Export Performance Report 2016-17 showed Victoria’s agriculture sector export growth had slowed.
“Cuts to Victoria’s agriculture budget and little action to reduce red tape for farmers are taking a toll on Victoria’s booming agriculture sector,” he said.
“There isn’t the appropriate focus on the agricultural sector that there should be.
“We need a well-resourced department that enforces biosecurity compliance. It only takes one or two people not controlling noxious weeds to cause problems for everyone.
“Food and fibre producers drive employment and add value to rural Victoria, especially in smaller communities like Kyabram and Rochester.
“Our farmers and agricultural businesses are the backbone of our state’s economy and support tens of thousands of jobs.”
Mr Walsh said it was disappointing the “city-centric” Victorian government was strangling farmers with red tape and not giving them the biosecurity protection they need.
“Such an important sector has faced cuts from the Andrews Labor Government — most recently a $32 million cut to agriculture in this year’s state budget,” he said. “Jaala Pulford is good at making promises and conducting reviews that fail to follow up in action to cut red tape or make it easier to do business in Victoria.
“Rather than more cuts, the Premier for Melbourne must make a real investment in making sure these industries have a strong future.”
Agriculture and Regional Development Minister Ms Pulford disputed Mr Walsh’s claims and said he was misleading farmers.
“On Mr Walsh’s watch Victoria’s biosecurity budget was gutted, the much-loved Rural Women’s Network was shut down and the National Centre for Farmer Health was left in limbo,” she said.
“It’s a bit rich for Mr Walsh to make these fallacies, as when in government all the Liberal-Nationals did was cut the very services regional Victorians rely on.
“Let’s not forget this comes from an opposition that had to be forced by the Andrews Labor Government to reinstate regional development as a shadow portfolio.
“And there is no knowing where these cuts will end if Matthew Guy and the Liberals win the next election. They announced on October 15 that they would undertake a ‘Commission of Audit’.
“A cost audit is code for cuts — cuts to the very services regional Victorians need. It took years for regional communities to recover from Jeff Kennett’s cuts and it looks like they want to do it all over again.”