WA told last of farm aid cuts

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce did not officially notify WA authorities that he was stripping millions of dollars from a farm-debt crisis package until two days after he announced the move to the media.

The extent of the snub, which sparked outrage among cash-strapped WA farmers, was revealed during a Senate estimates committee hearing this week.

Under questioning from WA Labor senator Glenn Sterle, Federal Department of Agriculture officials revealed Mr Joyce sent a press release on November 6, but did not write to WA counterpart Ken Baston about the $10 million cut in a promised $60 million concessional loan package until November 8.

Mr Joyce stripped millions of dollars from WA, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory and re-allocated the funds to Queensland, NSW and Victoria. He made the snap decision despite not having made a ministerial visit to WA.

It also emerged this week Mr Joyce did not seek WA Department of Agriculture advice or check with his own department to review correspondence from WA before making the decision.

The Opposition is calling for Mr Joyce to apologise to WA farmers, who accused him of ignoring their plight in favour of the Eastern States. A big part of the north-eastern Wheatbelt received less than 50 per cent of its annual rainfall this year and crop yields are well below average across one million hectares.

WAFarmers and the Muntadgin Farming Alliance have warned it will take more than one good season to address the debt crisis and scores of farms are being forced on to the market under instructions from receivers.

"Mr Joyce stole $10 million from financially strained WA farming families and couldn't even be bothered to write a letter for two days," Senator Sterle said.

"The people of WA deserve to be told personally from Mr Joyce why Eastern States farmers are more deserving of desperately needed financial support."

Mr Joyce said he telephoned Mr Baston before announcing the re-allocation, which he maintained would provide funds to farmers who needed them most.

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