Farmers air grievances over Local Land Services

STATE Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson moved yesterday to assure farmers that the formation of Local Land Services was a “practical way forward”.

“The model’s changing, not the service delivery,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

From next January, Local Land Services will deliver functions that are being provided by Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs), Livestock Health and Pest Authorities and some of the agriculture advisory services of Agriculture NSW, part of the Department of Primary Industries.

Twenty-one public meetings are being held across the state, with recommendations set to go before the minister by the end of April.

At the Moree meeting yesterday, there was concern by farmers about the make-up of the boards and the area boundaries under the new model.

Ms Hodgkinson said farmers at most meetings held so far had expressed concern about these issues, as well as rates.

But she said the boundaries were yet to be finalised and the government wanted to have as much community consultation as possible.

“It’s actually quite a high-level piece of work that we’re undertaking with this,” Ms Hodgkinson said.

Dr John Keniry, the stakeholder reference panel chairman who is conducting the meetings, told The Leader yesterday the Local Land Services draft map on public display followed local government boundary lines.

But some farmers at the Moree meeting said the boundary line west of Walgett, shown as being in the western division on the map, should be moved east of Walgett instead.

Another meeting was held yesterday afternoon in Glen Innes, with Gunnedah’s meeting to be held today from 2pm-5pm at the Gunnedah Bowling Club.

Organisations such as the state Serrated Tussock Working Party, plus farmers in general, were also worried the new Local Land Services might not be able to do an effective job across all its different areas, because of severe job cuts within the NSW Department of Primary Industries and experienced agronomists and farming advisors retiring.

But Ms Hodgkinson said the job cuts had been identified as a separate, pressing issue while she had been in Opposition and the job cuts would be occurring anyway, whether the Local Land Services process was happening or not.

She said after the process of Local Land Services was set in motion “we had to find $30 million recurrent in budget savings”.

“We inherited a $5 billion debt (from the previous government) and GST another $5 billion,” she said.

“The Department of Primary Industries hasn’t met its budget for six to seven years and we can’t keep borrowing money to pay public servants, to pay the wages.”

Dr Keniry said: “One of the outcomes of this is that there’ll be less overheads in the structure.”

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