Hard times in Granite Belt as Littleproud begs QLD to stump up

Hard times in Granite Belt as Littleproud begs QLD to stump up


Politics
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, StanthorpE, QLD apple grower Dino Rizzato, and Drought Minister David Littleproud in the desperately dry Granite Belt on Friday.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, StanthorpE, QLD apple grower Dino Rizzato, and Drought Minister David Littleproud in the desperately dry Granite Belt on Friday.

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Orchardists are ripping up trees and paying through the nose for water as Drought Minister announces more preparedness support.

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He's spending $40,000 a week carting water and has ripped up 10,000 of his apple trees to reduce water demand, but Dino Rizzato has managed to retain his 40 permanent staff at his orchard in Stanthorpe, Queensland.

Drought Minister David Littleproud visited Stanthorpe, in his electorate of Maranoa, on Friday with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to announce extensions to water infrastructure funding, and to implore the QLD government to match his support measures.

The Rizzato and Sons orchard is a third generation family business, dating from the 1950s.

The Granite Belt orchard supplies fresh pink lady, red delicious, gala, granny smith and fuji apples to Brisbane wholesalers and it's in the midst of the worst drought in living memory.

They're treating horticulture as a second class citizen - David Littleproud

"I haven't seen it as bad as this, for as long a period as this," Mr Rizzato said.

"There has always been drought, but for shorter periods. This has just been ongoing.

"Everyone in the district is in a similar situation, they're all really scratching for water now."

Mr Rizzato said the community is struggling along, but farmers had readied themselves as for dry times as much as possible.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, apple grower Dino Rizzato, and Drought Minister David Littleproud inspect Mr Rizzato's dam.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, apple grower Dino Rizzato, and Drought Minister David Littleproud inspect Mr Rizzato's dam.

"I think everybody was prepared as they could be," he said.

"Over time, everybody has built dams as much as they're allowed, as much as they can do.

"The whole community is looking towards the Emu Swamp Dam, and that is the next step."

QLD government was the last funding partner to commit to the $84 million, 10.5 megalitre Emu Swamp irrigation project, delivering a $13.6m funding promise in August, after the Commonwealth pledged $47m and local irrigators chipped in with $23m.

Mr Littleproud announced that $13.5m in Commonwealth funds committed to on-farm water infrastructure had been brought forward and for the first time grants are open to permanent horticulturists, such as Mr Rizzato.

The Commonwealth will rebate farmers 25pc of their costs for work like de-silting dams, capped at $25,000.

"This is about making sure that (farmers) know the federal government understands the unique nature of horticulture," Mr Littleproud said.

"This is an opportunity to build resilience for future droughts by getting in and cleaning these dams because it will rain and when it does we'll be able to store more water."

Mr Littleproud criticised the QLD Labor government's decision not to match the Commonwealth's funds in this measure, despite the fact it had previously supported livestock producers with the same program.

"They're treating horticulture as a second class citizen because the state government has refused to match us. I am pleading with state government, please come with us," he said.

"This man's (Mr Rizatto) livelihood and his community are at risk."

Mr Frydenberg said his tour over the past three days had brought home the impact the drought is having.

"This is the worst drought in living memory and we need to ensure these communities are supported," he said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg met with the Stanthorpe Rural Fire Service on Thursday evening.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg met with the Stanthorpe Rural Fire Service on Thursday evening.

Mr Frydneberg said in Inverell on Thursday the drought was a rural "GFC (global financial crisis)"

Mr Frydenberg said he had not read the final report Drought Co-Ordinator Major General Stephen Day.

"I have not read his final report, David (Littleproud) can speak to that," Mr Frydenberg said.

The federal government has been criticised by the Opposition over its refusal to release the report which was developed through months of consultation with the rural sector.

Major General Day has submitted the report to government, but Mr Littleproud said he was waiting until the National Farmer's Federation had delivered its own drought policy proposal to Cabinet, which is expected by the end of October.

The grant funding can be accessed in NSW, QLD, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT through the relevant state or territory agriculture department.

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