VICTORIAN Premier Daniel Andrews has faced questions around Horsham Rural City Council’s rates decision.
Mr Andrews was addressing the Victorian Farmers Federation conference on Friday as a keynote speaker when Kewell farmer Bruce Crafter posed a question to him about Horsham council’s decision to raise farm rates by 11.8 per cent for the 2018-19 financial year.
"I don't know whether you've heard about the brawling going on at Horsham Rural City Council,” Mr Crafter asked the Premier.
“Will you look at putting administrators in there so that we can get a fair and equitable rating strategy going on in there?
“At present it's so one-sided, we seem to be paying for everything. Rates are going up extraordinarily in that shire and we can't seem to get anywhere.
“Can you please do something about that? It has been compounded by revaluing every property, every year, that's not helping as well."
Mr Andrews replied that the government would address the issue further.
"I won't directly comment on Horsham, I will follow up with the minister for Local Government (Marlene Kairouz),” he said.
“We had another council who decided they would take a pretty poor approach towards primary producers.
“We put a monitor into that council, we got some advice directly, in relation to the experience in that council, we are getting close to the conclusion of a review it is important to listen to local communities.
“We don't want dysfunction in councils, powers are exercised very serious. (I would be) more than happy to speak with Local Government minister about your concerns.
“There is then a broader piece of work, that goes directly to this issue, and addresses the smaller councils that are perhaps driving some of these sorts of decisions.
“There will be a detailed response to this, quite soon.”
Horsham Mayor Pam Clarke responded to the Premier’s comments.
“We’re very aware that the (Local Government) minister was watching what we were doing on Monday night,” she said.
“We couldn’t change rates to less than what was expected by the minister.”
Cr Clarke said council had been open to discussing a solution to the rates disparity with the VFF.
“The VFF needs to come to the party. They had 28 days to put in a submission, but didn’t,” she said.
“Then on the day that we were discussing it and making the decision, we had a demonstration out the front, and hoots and hollers from the chamber.
“What else were we meant to do? We had timelines and restrictions to what we could and couldn’t do.
“Some of the personal attacks have been very nasty; it should be about the issues, not the personalities. This kind of behaviour is actually pushing councillors further away from the debate.”
Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh also spoke about rates at the VFF conference.
“The rate cap has failed farmers, because it’s a cap on overall rates, not on how they are raised,” he said.
“There is a Local Government reform Bill before the parliament at the moment talking about reducing the amount of rates councils can collect from the municipal charge from 20 per cent to 10pc.
“That’s a backward step. I am disappointed a lot of rural councils don’t use the municipal charge which is meant to cover the services they deliver.”