JENNY DENTON jdenton@gannawarratimes.com.au



Elliot Newspaper Group



THE extension of federal government drought funding to Gannawarra shire last week came as a surprise to the council, Gannawarra Shire mayor, Lorraine Learmonth, said. “It was a surprise, a welcome surprise,” Cr Learmonth told the Gannawarra Times. “People are more focused on seeing the water prices come down but this is a good start. “It does allow farmers to get the $3000 household payment, which previously they couldn’t access because we weren’t drought declared.” Close to $100 million in funding for drought-affected communities was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday. Gannawarra was one of 13 council areas around the country to be newly drought declared and eligible for the funding. Of the $100 million, $33.4 million will be made available through the Drought Community Support Initiative, which will see the Coalition Government work with the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society to make $3000 grants made available to farming households in urgent need. The funding also includes up to $1 million for 13 councils to complete local infrastructure and droughtrelief projects. The federal drought funding package also includes the simplification and easing of conditions on the Farm Household Allowance and an increase of $740,000 to five Rural Financial Counselling Service providers. Federal Member for Mallee, Anne Webster, said the household grants would help relieve the stress of urgent bills such as food, petrol and utilities and would also boost local economies. “The effects of the drought are not just felt on the farm – regional communities and businesses suffer as people spend less in towns,” Dr Webster said. “This will boost the economy from Werrimull to Cohuna, create jobs, engage local businesses and support rural industries and provide a long-lasting benefit to the community.” Cr Learmonth said the council was yet to have any discussions about how the shire grant would be used. “It has to encourage jobs and assist local businesses or farmers,” Cr Learmonth said. “So there needs to be discussion and a look at projects that have already been mentioned to see if any are appropriate.” Cohuna dairy farmer Margot Henty said the community was “looking down the barrel of an extraordinarily dry six months” and it was good that the plight of agriculture in the shire had been recognised. “I congratulate all those involved in efforts to highlight the situation. Those efforts have been recognised,” Ms Henty said. She said Cohuna residents were also involved in a Rural Aid application for a “town rescue” project and the group was yet to compile a list of activities it wanted to support. “We have been recognised as an area facing serious challenges and we need to now look at a longer term vision to make the best of any assistance coming our way,” she said.