Grapes affected by smoke taint meant more than $500 million in revenue was lost in NSW vineyards alone. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Grapes affected by smoke taint meant more than $500 million in revenue was lost in NSW vineyards alone. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Millions in grants promised during byelection are yet to be paid

Millions in Eden-Monaro byelection bushfire promises yet to be paid

Sustainability
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More than $86 million was promised, but only half has been paid eight months later.

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Millions of dollars in grants announced during the Eden-Monaro byelection are still to be paid to apple and grape producers, eight months after the money was announced.

In June last year, weeks before the Eden-Monaro byelection, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an extra $86 million in bushfire recovery grants, including $31 million for apple growers and $5.7 million for wine producers affected by smoke taint.

Of the $31 million for apple growers, just 1 per cent has been paid, and only 11 per cent of the money for wine producers has been paid.

Payment of the promised grant money is complicated by different delivery mechanisms and eligibility criteria across states. Both the programs aimed at the wine grape and apple sectors only opened for applications in October and closed in December.

Around $50 million was promised to the timber industry, $40 million for competitive grants in a Forestry Recovery Development Fund and $10 million timber storage facilities to provide certainty for mills.

Read also: Hunter's 2021 vintage stays close to home with grape pickers

The $40 million in forestry grants have been announced, with $14 million going to mills in the Eden-Monaro electorate, including $3 million to the Visy Tumut Mill, owned by Anthony Pratt, one of Australia's richest men.

Labor criticised the timing of the announcement as politically motivated at the time, and the party's spokesman on disaster and emergency management, Murray Watt, said the delay in funding showed the announcement was only an election ploy.

"Seven months on, barely a trickle of the promised funding has reached primary producers who were devastated by the Black Summer bushfires," he said.

"It's absolutely pathetic. Scott Morrison has shown once again that he'll be there for the photo op, but not the follow up."

An apple grower in the Batlow region, who didn't want to be named, said early rounds of grant funding were simple to apply for and receive, but later rounds aimed at the sector were not. It was not easy to find out why applications had been rejected, or why some growers had been successful and others had not, despite similar situations.

NSW Wine Industry Association president Mark Bourne said he couldn't fault the process the governments had put in place for the grants, and the robustness of the grant application system.

Mr Bourne owns a vineyard in the Southern Highlands, one of the worst-affected areas for smoke tainted grapes. He said the $5.7 million announced by the government was an important measure to help grape growers affected by smoke taint but who weren't in the local government areas declared disaster areas.

But the money handed out in other grant streams didn't come close to meeting the challenge of making up for $500 million in lost revenue across NSW growers, he said.

"We did apply for about $28 million as an industry, and only received $3.4 million. So there still is need in our sector, still help required in our sector to recover from the bushfires 12 months ago."

Asked why there had been such a delay in paying the money after it had been announced, a spokesman for the National Bushfire Recovery Agency provided a statement.

"As part of the Commonwealth commitment to support recovery from the Black Summer bushfires, on 23 June 2020 a further $86 million was announced to support the recovery of the forestry industry, apple growers and wine grape producers," the statement said.

"Following the announcement, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment developed guidelines for each program in consultation with participating states and industry representatives. Applications for the programs opened following finalisation of the guidelines."

The story Millions in grants promised during byelection are yet to be paid first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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