Flood fund criteria way off the mark

Almost four months on from the floods that devastated much of rural Canterbury and the Government has fallen well short of the promises it made to local farmers – completely leaving them in the lurch, MP for Selwyn Nicola Grigg says.

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor flew into Ashburton with cameras rolling to announce a $4 million Canterbury Flood Recovery Fund – indicating that it was just a start, that they were still working to establish the full scale and cost of the damage – and that there would be more where that came from.

“The fund offers grants of up to 50 per cent of eligible costs with a total limit of $250,000 and will contribute to uninsurable costs to enable productive land to return to a productive state as quickly as possible.

“Essentially, it can only be used for the clearing up of flood debris such as boulders, gravel, trees, and silt on productive land. Insurable costs, such as replacing fences, have not been targeted by the fund.

“Four months on and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has received 168 applications for support, with a total monetary value of $8,029,535.

“To put the number of applications into perspective there are over 550 properties in the ArcGIS survey database, suffering varying degrees of damage.

“Criteria set for the Fund though require 51 per cent of income to be from Primary Industry so 75 lifestyle blocks listed in the database were ineligible.

“There are also some that have been put into the database as sheep or beef farms but have other income streams (for example, tourism, nurse, teacher, builder or rental property revenue) which has excluded them from applying as they didn’t meet the 51 per cent criteria from the primary industry.

“In my view, that absolutely stinks. The Government set a criteria that was very difficult for highly-stressed, overworked and exhausted farmers to meet. I have asked Damien O’Connor if he’s prepared to review the criteria and the answer was a flat-out ‘no’.

“While MPI have accepted 82 applications, they’re only paying out $1,482,964 to those farmers – and have declined another 38, on the grounds they don’t meet the eligibility criteria.

“And therein lies the problem – the eligibility criteria is far too strict and, therefore, discounts hundreds of affected farmers and landowners. The monetary value of the applications alone indicates the Government is way off target.

“We are now four months on from an adverse event that was out of our farmers control and they have had to jump through hoops for a chance at getting some financial assistance.

“In comparison, a Covid lockdown is also an adverse event beyond our control and other businesses are receiving financial assistance in the form of wage subsidies, resurgence support payments and the like.

“Because our farmers are an essential service, still working and likely generating revenue, the majority are not eligible for this assistance.

“Damien O’Connor needs to instruct MPI to loosen its eligibility criteria and get that money out the door to help those farmers most in need.”