NZ dairy farmers second class citizens in Australian dairy assistance program

Dairy farmers like Maria Comer who came from New Zealand to Australia are locked out of government support (Photo: Warwick Long)

ABC Rural

New Zealand dairy farmers who have been farming in Australia for more than a decade say they are struggling to survive with no access to the Federal Government’s industry assistance.

This year, dairy farmers across Australia have had the price they are paid for milk slashed and many are now being paid below cost of production for their produce.

To help the industry, the Federal Government responded by making low-interest, concessional loans available and extended the Centrelink farm household allowance to dairy farming families.

However New Zealand farmers who have made Australia their home, cannot access the assistance.

New Zealand dairy farmers cannot access this help because they are not Australian citizens and because dairy is classified as unskilled labour, those farmers cannot apply to become citizens or permanent residents.

Maria Comer, who was part of the influx of New Zealand farmers to northern Victoria at the turn of the century has farmed in northern Victoria since 2001.

She can not believe that kiwi farmers who pay taxes, invest their money in Australia and want to make Australia their home are being excluded by government.

“We’re second-rate citizens really.”

“We can’t access anything, farm household assistance, concessional loans, you apply for it but we can’t get it.”

“We’re fobbed off as, you know it’s the law so tough luck and go away.”

New Zealand dairy farmers aired their grievances at a Federal Government, Dairy Assistance Roundtable at Congupna in northern Victoria where it is estimated that New Zealand dairy farmers account for around 10 per cent of dairy farmers in the Goulburn Valley region of Victoria.

Representing the Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce at the meeting was Nationals Senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie.


New Zealand dairy farmers are struggling to get Australian government assistance. (Photo ABC News: Karen Percy)

Senator McKenzie promised assistance for the farmers to become Australian citizens was on the way.

“In July 2017, there will be a special skilled, independent category of visa class whereby dairy farmers will be able to apply for permanent residency under that visa class and hence be able to access that assistance.”

That means a year after their milk price was cut, the farmers finally will have an avenue towards residency and assistance.

But Senator McKenzie has ruled that gaining any assistance in the meantime.

“That is our social security system and it’s the expectation of the Australian public that our social support system is only available to Australian citizens,” she said.

[Read the ABC article].


Opinion

There are several inaccurate statements by Nationals Senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie in the above article.

Social assistance is not only available to citizens. Permanent residents and Protected Special Category Visa-holders are entitled to government support after residing in Australia for 104 weeks, known as the Newly Arrived Residents Waiting Period (NARWP).

New Zealand farmers may not be eligible for the New Zealand Stream 189 visa due to a reduced income. They may be re-investing in the farm, or distributing profits between multiple family members working the farm. This would be particularly the case at the moment – the very reason for the assistance scheme is that dairy farmers are not making money in the current market.

Being eligible for the New Pathway visa, available from 1 July 2017, won’t solve the immediate issue either. It will take several months to be processed, and they will then need to serve the two-year NARWP.

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