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  • Rikki Lambert

North west Victorian farmers urged to have their say on potential Mildura rate hike


Former Swan Hill mayor now Mildura MP Jade Benham (right) urges ratepayers to speak up on rating policy

The member for Mildura has jumped upon one of fourteen rating scenarios released by the Mildura Rural City Council as symptomatic of a 'regional rip off' by premier Daniel Andrews.


Former Swan Hill mayor now local MP Jade Benham warned Flow listeners that northwest Victoria’s agricultural producers might be the test case for a new cash grab by local shires across regional and rural areas.


A Mildura Rural City Council proposal now in front of its ratepayers could see farmers' rates hiked by an average of $463 per property, with some owning multiple properties.


Ms Benham said regional Victoria is home to 25 per cent of all Victorians, yet only averages 12 per cent of state government funding, not to mention the $28 billion in cost overruns on those major projects in the state's capital.:

“We know regional Victoria is being ripped off to that extent, we have had the independent Parliamentary Budget Office go through the two previous budgets for what capital spend there was in regional Victoria versus the city and got 11 per cent and 13 per cent of the capital spend."

Speaking on Flow on Monday, Ms Benham urged ratepayers to click the link above and tell Council their thoughts on future revenue policy:

"... we need people to have their say. We need people to get on to the Mildura Rural City Council website and absolutely have your say. It's one thing to sit back and whinge about your rates notice and how bad it is, and we know that it is bad from a regional Victorian level, the rate system is broken and it does need to be fixed."

Hear the full interview with Jade Benham MP on the Flow podcast player below:




The following is an automatically generated transcript and may contain errors. Check against audio delivery.


LAMBERT:

The member for Mildura is Jade Benham for the Victorian Nationals. And Jade, look, the spotlight today is on the Mildura Rural City Council and the council rate proposals that have gone out. We shared this over the weeken, there's about 14 scenarios, but there's one the council seems to have put in the focus that is not looking flash for farmers.


BENHAM:

No, just a time when farmers don't need any more strain. Obviously, with costs increasing, some costs skyrocketed, I know the cost of urea and some chemicals have come back recently, but over the last twelve months, there's been 300 per cent price increases across the board for most food producers. So it's come at a really bad time. But I get council, having been on council before - Not Mildura, but Swan Hill - it's coming up with those differential rates can be really confusing and it's really complex. The formula is really complex and there's always lots of different scenarios. More often than not, you would hope that farmers, depending on what kind of year they've had, farmers might get a bit of a discount, effectively but this year it could see them increase really significantly.


LAMBERT:

And this is where just the moving parts of this, as we understand from what the Rural City Council put out there, potentially, let's just say someone in Mildura - but they say someone in a residential property, so other towns included as well - you might get $80 off your council rates under this formula. That's got people a bit energised. $80 off for residential, but $400 more if you're on a farm.


BENHAM:

Yeah. Does that seem fair? Does that seem fair to you, Rikki? It doesn't seem fair to me.


LAMBERT:

Let's just say credit to the council. They've certainly got people talking about their consultation on the rate policy.


BENHAM:

Absolutely they have. And that's exactly what we need, because we need people to have their say. We need people to get on to the Mildura Rural City Council website and absolutely have your say. It's one thing to sit back and whinge about your rates notice and how bad it is, and we know that it is bad from a regional Victorian level, the rate system is broken and it does need to be fixed.


But again, it's the same sorts of reason that there's little appetite for city centric governments like the Andrews government to fix rates for those of us in the regions, especially if it means those in the city are going to cop increased rates so ours can come back a little to level the playing field. It's that same sort of thing here. So, yes, they've got us talking now. We need people to talk back to them so they really get engaged.


LAMBERT:

Now, you're the former mayor of Swan Hill. Now, to what extent would property prices have as a driver in this formula? Because we have seen incredible interest in buying farms, for instance, in regional Victoria, predictions that will continue during 2023 from analysts we've spoken to on Flow. How much is the actual valuation of the land driving this potential formula change?


BENHAM:

I mean, there's different aspects. Like I said, it's quite complex. But the CPI, your capital improved values is one of those issues, and this is an argument I have often. It's one of those contributing factors.


So when you have people around you, for example, if you own a farm with irrigated horticulture and you have people buying all around you at, let's say, $75,000 an acre, for example, that makes your capital improved value go through the roof, because obviously, if that's what people are buying consistently around you, your value obviously goes up.


Therefore the Auditor General is going to say, well, this farm is worth this much, so that property value that it's valued at goes up as well. But like I said, there's so many different scenarios on how each council calculates different rates differently. For example, when I was there the last time that we went through the rating and the budgets, we were presented with five different differentials. And some of those did give slight discounts to businesses because of COVID at businesses and industry, because we thought, having a bit of a social conscience, we need to help businesses recover from COVID. Over during the drought, there was slight discounts for dryland farmers because they were struggling, obviously. So, yes, capital improved value and the value of your property is one aspect that contributes to how much your rates will go up.

But there are other scenarios as well that all have to be taken into account. And this is settling on which rates model you'll use each and every year is one of the toughest jobs of any council.


LAMBERT:

And the council was, well, I guess, they’re looking for a bit of cover in terms of who responds on the survey, on the Mildura Council website. But on that survey, that scenario you raised just before, does that mean, say, if you're at Lake Cullulleraine or that area, you might, as a dryland farmer, be potentially getting punished with your rates because others are putting on irrigation, which is worth more per hectare?


BENHAM:

Yeah, possibly. I mean, again, it's one of those factors that goes into coming up with that rating differential, if you like. So, yeah, absolutely. And we have seen it happen, and even in the Robinvale area, through the Mallee, where they can now get water to those dry land properties, those dry land farmers are selling up and they're also getting offered a lot of money for plots of land. It might be 300 acres that hasn't been able to get water to it previously, they now can by growers that are getting bigger and food producers that are producing more food and being more diverse with their crops. They're now able to get water to those areas and dry land farmers are going, yep, okay, no worries. That's my retirement fund. See you later. Which is actually a really scary thought because we need those food producers, because if we don't have them, we don't have bread, flour, you know, all of that essential stuff - and we really need to think about that as well.


LAMBERT:

I note on Monday being the 20th of February Daniel Andrews clocks 3000 days as premier, meaning he's entitled to a bronze statue or something like that in his honour. Could he forego that and donate the cost of that to the Mildura ratepayers to help them cope with their cost of living?


BENHAM:

Wouldn't that be nice? Wait, we were talking about social conscience. That would be absolutely lovely, but I don't think, no, I think that's never going to happen.


LAMBERT:

He could still have one made out of paper mache or something. Perhaps you could make one for him.


… I was going to say I'll volunteer.


LAMBERT:

… To make one out of a school competition. All the school kids to make a statue of him and donate the money to Mildura ? …


BENHAM:

.. a statue or a pinata maybe?. Look, there are so many things and being in this job, literally for five minutes, you look around when you go to Parliament and you go through budgets and things, the amount of money that could be spent much better elsewhere if they just look outside of the little bubble they call Melbourne.


There's so much money wasted on things like bronze statutes, for goodness sake.


LAMBERT:

A bit of money on road maintenance for local councils might actually help them not put the rates up so much.


BENHAM:

Exactly. Maybe don't get rid of the Country Roads and Bridges programme and help councils actually provide the services delivery that they need to.

That's why they're there. Councils are feeling the pinch a lot with the cost shifting and the reduction of funding that the Andrews government is providing. When they cut funding programmes like that and they are feeling the pinch, they really feel like this government wants to make councils obsolete, and I hope that's not the case, because councils and local government provide obviously really essential services and they're really integral part of our whole system, so but I know they are feeling the pinch.


LAMBERT:

Well, I look forward to next time your team turns up on Spring Street that the Nationals have got a pinata for Daniel Andrews to make the point. That will be fantastic.


BENHAM:

Don't tempt me.


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