Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon says he is "more and more" concerned decisions on federal drought funding are being made in the "interest of government, not farmers", after the Department of Infrustracture confirmed the water-soaked shire of Moyne in Southern Victoria was eligible to access $1 million of funding under the federal government's Drought Communities Progamme on Tuesday.
Analysis by the Newcastle Herald found that 32, or 89 per cent, of the 36 councils added to the eligibility list by the Morrison government this year are in federal divisions held by Nationals or Liberal MPs. There is a total of 123 councils on the list.
A spokesperson for Water Minister David Littleproud's office said inclusion in the eligibility list, which governs council access to project funding as well as households' access to drought relief, was solely determined by weather, economic and industry data.
Mr Fitzgibbon, a Labor MP, said Nationals and Liberal members hold more rural seats than other parties so it "was not surprising" their electorates figured more widely in the extensions to the list. However, he said the prime minister needed to reassure the community there was no "systematic pork-barrelling".
"It is clear there are Labor electorates, including Singleton, that are much more affected by drought than Moyne Shire," he said. "What is inexplicable is why Muswellbrook can be in and Singleton could be out."
Councils added to the Drought Communities Programme in 2019
The Department of Infrastructure released a statement confirming all 13 Local Government Areas added to the scheme last week were eligible after an audit was requested by Water Minister David Littleproud on Monday. The Department said multiple factors had been used to determine eligibility including 24 months of rainfall data up until June 30.
"We have been using the same methodology with successful outcomes for previous rounds of the Drought Communities Programme extension," a department spokesman said.
The statement came after the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported on Monday night that the government had admitted to its journalists that the Department had used incorrect data to determine Moyne as eligible. A spokesperson for Minister David Littleproud denied such an exchange had occurred.
We've got a green tinge that Muswellbrook hasn't. When it comes to water storage we're no different to the guys in that area.Steven Wilkinson
Steven Wilkinson, the farm manager of a 4000-acre beef cattle property in Singleton, has stated that the council area should "most definitely" be made eligible for federal drought funding.
"Currently, we've got a green tinge that Muswellbrook hasn't. But if there's no follow up rain we're going to be in the same boat. When it comes to water storage we're no different to the guys in that area," Mr Wilkinson said.
"Come Christmas it will be drastic for water if we don't get any run-off."
He said the area would benefit from any projects or funding "to do with water holding".
"Maybe making dams bigger or deeper," he said.
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