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Government used wrong data to award $1m in drought relief to waterlogged shire

“If people are accusing us of helping us too much they can, that’s certainly much better than the alternative,” Scott Morrison said.

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Opposition spokesman for agriculture and Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon lashed out at the federal government, saying severely drought-affected communities in NSW had been forgotten.

The towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook in Mr Fitzgibbon’s electorate missed out on the $1 million grants, although both are on the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ drought map.

“The decision to leave these drought-affected communities off the list is yet another example of the inadequacy and ad hoc nature of the Morrison Government’s drought response,” he said.

Moyne Shire Mayor Mick Wolfe said last Friday’s funding announcement came as a surprise, as neither the council nor local federal MP Dan Tehan had asked for the money.

“We do not believe Moyne Shire is experiencing drought conditions and so we are pleased that the Minister for Agriculture has ordered an audit to be carried out on information used to inform this decision,” he said.

“I think they meant to give it to the Moira Shire [in Victoria’s north]. When I heard about it I thought it was a joke, but I knew it was wrong. They’ve stuffed up somewhere,” local farmer and councillor Jim Doukas said.

Blame a dry autumn, according to local member Mr Tehan, who confirmed Drought Minister David Littleproud would audit the criteria used to allocate the funds to councils.

“There’s a methodology that’s put in place, that’s predicated off the Bureau of Meteorology,” Mr Littleproud told ABC local radio on Monday morning.

“They drought map each shire and as at June 30, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, 62 per cent of that shire was in drought.”

Mr Tehan admitted the area had enjoyed “a lot of spring rain”.

“We think [the audit] will show quite clearly that Moyne isn’t in drought. We also look forward to the money being redirected to areas in greater need.”

More than 50 millimetres of rain has fallen in September alone in the shire’s biggest town Port Fairy, with farm paddocks under water near in surrounding Tarrone and Kirkstall.

Another local farmer and councillor, Colin Ryan, said he also thought the funding allocation had been a “misprint”.

“Mr Littleproud said 60 per cent of the shire is in drought but clearly we are not. We will discuss tomorrow. We knew nothing about it, we have done no lobbying. In northern parts of the country, farmers are living in dustbowls and struggling to feed their cattle and put food on the table.”

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