Tatiara receives $1m drought assistance package

FUNDING: Tatiara District Council will recieve $1 million in drought funding as part of an extension to the Federal Government's 'Drought Communities Program'.
FUNDING: Tatiara District Council will recieve $1 million in drought funding as part of an extension to the Federal Government's 'Drought Communities Program'.

There's been a mixed reaction to Tatiara District Council receiving $1 million in drought funding.

The Federal Government announced yesterday that 122 Australian councils will receive $1m as part of the Drought Communities Program.

Due to strong demand, the program was extended to a further six drought-affected councils, including the Tatiara council.

Tatiara mayor Graham Excell said the council area met the specifications of the government's drought criteria, although they didn't apply for the funding.

"If you look at it from a farmers' angle, no we're not in drought, but we meet the specifications of the government drought conditions," mayor Excell said.

While pressure has been placed on the council to reject the funding, he mentioned if the funds were refused, it could potentially have future ramifications.

"If we reject our 'Building Better Region Fund' application, it'll also reject the farmers being able to apply for small grants," mayor Excell said.

"This money actually doesn't go the farmers, it goes to region and has to be spent by December 2020."

Mayor Excell stated the council will look to use the funding to bring forward a number of important regional projects and believes there is "too much loss" if they don't receive the funds.

He said the money council receives could potentially go towards the continual upgrade of Keith's industrial estate, providing grant funding for sporting bodies or upgrading the region's roads.

Many of the state's northern regions are currently experiencing more extreme drought conditions than the Tatiara, leading to a number of residents calling the decision unfair.

Federal Member for Barker Tony Pasin said if the council were to reject the "generous" funding, then it would go back into general revenue, instead of being redistributed to another drought affected council area.

He said the Tatiara had experienced 60 per cent rainfall deficiency over the past 12 months.

"What you need to do when something as emotive as drought, from a government perspective, is act generously and act in way that is not subjective," Mr Pasin said.

"The last thing that we would want is for councils who are genuinely in difficulty to miss out and we would rather be in a situation we were seen to be somewhat generous."

He also praised the efforts of the region's "efficient" and "innovative" farmers, stating how the district's crops are doing incredibly well when factoring in the 60 per cent rainfall deficiency.

"We've contributed $7.5b towards assisting farmers in drought and a $750m step up which was announced yesterday by the Prime Minister - we can do all this because we are in a strong financial position," Mr Pasin said.

"We are heading towards a surplus and we still have the head room to be able to assist farmers in drought."

Mr Pasin encouraged the council to accept the funding and use it to make the community stronger and more resilient, stating the list and breadth of the application is endless.

Tatiara farmer Michael Hunt said he was "somewhat surprised" at the funding news, but stated the year has been drier than normal and farmers have been fortunate to experience rain at the right time of the year.

"The water-logged areas in the district aren't water-logged and the crops are looking pretty good - it's looking like a reasonable season," Mr Hunt said.

He said he is confident there are a number of forward-thinking councillors that will use the generous funding "wisely".

A suggestion was made to potentially hold on to a portion of the money and save it for future droughts.

"Not always do the droughts in South Australia get noticed by the eastern states if the eastern states aren't having a drought," Mr Hunt said.

"Hopefully this money can be used wisely so next year, the year after or whenever it comes, that we've got some benefit out of this assistance package."