THE NSW government has backflipped on controversial changes to its Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate after the agricultural industry, and even those from within its own ranks, demanded it honour the original agreement.
Farmers, industry advocates and local MPs were left stunned early last week when the NSW Rural Assistance Authority (RAA) announced the popular scheme had been fully subscribed, despite many farmers in the region not yet having made their claims.
Many farmers had been busy installing water infrastructure under the impression they had until June 30
to apply for the rebate, and were blindsided by the government’s announcement the money had run out.
Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall was angered by the move and called on the government to allocate additional funding, while NSW Farmers’ president Fiona Simson said some farmers would have gone into debt on the basis they would receive the rebate.
“If the government has budgetary issues then that’s the government’s issue,” she said.
Yesterday those calls for a rethink were answered when deputy premier Andrew Stoner and primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson said the government would honour its original commitment, accepting all applications for water infrastructure work completed on or before June 30.
Applicants will now have until 5pm on Friday, July 4, to lodge an application to the RAA, with invoices dated on or before the end of June.
Mr Stoner said due to the difficult drought conditions facing much of the state, there had been a high take-up of the funding pool, almost exhausting the money for both this financial year and the next.
Under the agreement, the NSW government offers a 50 per cent rebate up to a cap of $30,000, with its federal counterparts providing a 25 per cent rebate, raising the cap from $30,000 to $50,000.
Mr Marshall said he expected the announcement would come as a great relief to the many farmers who had called or emailed his office since June 23.
“In good faith, Northern Tablelands farmers have undertaken works which were eligible under the scheme, with some going out on a limb financially to employ contractors, purchase piping and pumps anticipating they would be compensated – now they certainly will,” he said.
His Tamworth counterpart, Kevin Anderson, said he had conveyed the anger and frustration of many of his constituents to the minister and was glad commonsense had finally prevailed.