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This Aussie council is giving away $700 debit cards for free

Wellington Shire Council wants to provide more drought relief for farmers and boost the local economy at the same time. (Source: Getty)

Record numbers of Aussies have filed their tax returns in order to get their tax sweeteners promised by the Morrison government, but some Australians will be getting a little bit more.

Drought-affected farmers living in Victoria’s Gippsland will receive a one-off Mastercard pre-loaded with $700 from Wellington Shire Council, which has set aside $1 million in their 2019-20 council budget to fund it.

“Eligible farmers will… be given a pre-loaded debit card to the value of $700,” said a statement from the council.

“This card can be used at any outlet accepting Mastercard and is for you to use on any purpose, whether that’s purchasing groceries, paying for stock feed, school fees – however you choose to spend it.”

While farmers can spend the $700 to their own discretion, Wellington Shire Mayor Alan Hall told ABC that he wanted it to be spent on boosting local business.

“We're urging our farmers to spend that $700 locally, particularly on local businesses in our local area,” Hall said.

But not every farmer is eligible for the debit card.

According to Wellington Shire Council, farmers will have to meet the following conditions:

  • Size of farming property is greater than 40 hectares

  • Registered with the Australian Taxation office as a primary producer

  • More than 51 per cent of income is generated from the farm, in a normal year

  • Contribute more than 51 per cent of labour to the farming enterprise in a normal year.

Responding to drought

Gippsland farmers are currently in their third year of ‘green drought’, where paddocks look green from a distance but are stifled by weeds, and are estimated to have lost as much as 70 per cent of their regular income.

In order to best spend the $1 million allocated for drought response, Wellington Shire consulted its Agricultural Reference Group, but farmer Trent Anderson said the onus should be on the state government to find a solution.

"Personally I thought: 'Why is the Shire involved in this?’” he told ABC.

“‘This is a State Government issue, and they should be dipping into their own pocket.’ That was my first thought."

The Victorian government has provided a $50 million drought relief package for farmers, which includes the On-Farm Drought Infrastructure Support Grant of up to $5,000, technical assistance from Agriculture Victoria, as well as free financial counselling.

Wellington Shire is one of two shires considered to be in ‘drought’ – rather than ‘experiencing dry seasonal conditions’ – meaning that farmers in these suburbs get extra assistance in the form of one-off support payments up to $3,500 and pasture recovery grants up to $5,000.

But these measures don’t go far enough, Anderson told ABC.

"We really should not be having a go at the Wellington Shire right now; the shire has managed to find a million dollars," he said.

"Why aren't we kicking down the door of the Victorian Government and asking them to make a bit of a difference on our rates?

"They say they govern for all Victorians, but I guess you just have to live within the vicinity of Melbourne."

Victorian agriculture minister Jaclyn Symes described the $700 payment as a “great initiative”.

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