Bruce Wills wonders why the anger at the RAP program; 'its just the dole and means and asset tested like any other benefit'. Your view?

By Bruce Wills*

Another day, another drought it seems with the North Island now one huge drought zone - something not lost on Wellingtonians who have the countdown timer on to when their city faces ‘Watergeddon’.

The Sunday Star Times recently ran the headline that this drought is “the most severe in history.”

Undeniably this drought is rough but 1982/83 was seemingly worse.

Thirty-years ago drought not only gripped the North Island but Australia too.

This Trans-Tasman 1982/83 drought still ranks as one of the most destructive in Australian history.

In my own neck of the woods, 1952, according to records and the older-hands, seems worse than 2013 is to date.

Then you have the irony of my Federated Farmers Board colleague, Katie Milne, flying to a demonstration of farm equipment in Australia only for that to be washed out. Katie then returned to the drought afflicted West Coast. 

Yet these drought declarations have got tongues wagging about ‘farmer welfarism’. 

The right-wing blogger called ‘Cactus Kate’ certainly did not hold back, writing, 

When people/trustees/companies (confused quite who is applying here) sitting on million dollars of assets can apply for welfare assistance when the one major risk of their business pops up, why cannot anyone?  No doubt the usual twaddle will be rolled out about farmers being the backbone of the nation etc.....

Then we have this,

It makes it pretty hard to argue for those of us on the right about the reduction of the welfare state when this sort of nonsense is supported. 

Katie Milne was asked for her reaction by Dairy Exporter magazine and Katie did not hold back either. 

It is disappointing bloggers don’t do cursory fact checking,” Katie said.  “Look social media is great but some bloggers seem to turn into self-important potentates. What Bill English was reported as saying on Monday didn’t help but he was great on Checkpoint later where he clarified everything.  Admittedly, it did give the impression there was a magic pot of cash sitting in Wellington to bail farmers out.  If there is a pot of cash I don’t know about it, neither does Bruce Wills nor any farmer I know.

Talkback callers say small businesses cannot get government bailouts so why should farmers?  We agree with that statement 100 Percent.

Agriculture had state intervention in the 1970’s and 80’s and not only did it not work, it destroyed lives - something I was reminded of when talking to the Otago Daily Times’ Neal Wallace, who is writing a book on the Rogernonmics era.

It may be the curse of the ‘here and now’ but the late great Sir Peter Elworthy, when President of Federated Farmers, gave Labour the impetus to end subsidies.  This also means we cannot rock up to the Beehive when it stops raining to be given an envelope of cash so long as we give some ‘secret farmers handshake’.  That is fantasy.

It is not hard to Google Rural Assistance Payments via Work and Income and read the criteria. To the credit of most media that is what they have done. 

A RAP is the dole and as such is means and asset tested like any other benefit. For the avoidance of doubt testing includes trusts too.  One member of the media who called our comms team late on Friday believed there had been zero applications.  We will check that out.

Farm businesses are no different to any other so we don’t expect or want government to ‘bail us out’.  If you don’t believe me examine Vote Agriculture & Forestry from Budget 2012.

You will find the budget for Adverse Climatic Events, to provide recovery assistance in the aftermath of adverse events and to assist rural support trusts, is $526,000.  As a point of comparison policy advice to government ‘on the community and voluntary sector’ is some three times greater than the entire budget for Adverse Climatic Events.

This budget is also only unlocked by an adverse events declaration. Sadly it is getting a top-up because the last time drought was this bad was 1983.

Then again the rural support trusts who deliver services are run by volunteers on the smell of an oily rag.  These trusts are about supporting a community to help itself and it was that kind of ethos we bought to Christchurch with the Farmy Army.

As Katie Milne added in her blogger response, “you must be pretty heartless to say that because you are a farming family who has lost everything or pretty much close to it, that you must be banned from our social welfare safety net just because your occupation was farmer”.  The same safety net rightfully is there for Café owners caught out by the economy right through to lawyers falling on desperate times. 

Farmers are big on self-help because we pay a commodity levy to fund our industry good bodies like Beef+Lamb NZ, DairyNZ and FAR.

Should we have a biosecurity incursion in the future exporters will be expected to share the cost of response.

That does not sound like farmer social welfare to me and it is a shame that these RAP’s are giving us such a bad wrap.

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Bruce Wills is the President of Federated Farmers. A version of this article was published in the Dominion Post. It is used here with permission. You can contact him here »

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