Town burnt once by the fires, and again by the tax rules


JINDIVICK feels like the forgotten town. Locals affected by Black Saturday say they have been told they do not qualify for most aid grants, even though dairy farmers are struggling and the general store is going under.
“You hear so many sad stories,” a tearful Marilyn Mason, co-owner of the store, said yesterday. “Potential suicides. It’s just a squashed little town. But because nobody died here and nobody was injured, nobody wants to know. I’m sure there are other little communities suffering just the same because their damage isn’t newsworthy.
“You see guys coming in here crying – big men that would throw a cow around and not flinch. But they are at the end of their tether.”
Ms Mason and fellow store owners Michael and Cindy Read have called a public meeting for this morning to discuss what they see as a crisis. Ms Mason said: “What we want to see is some of that $350million (given to the Bushfire Appeal Fund) – which people in our community also contributed to – we want to see that divvied up immediately. Farmers need cash in their pockets so they can buy grain.
“All the money that’s been donated by people – nobody we have spoken to around here has seen any of that money.”
According to a spokeswoman for the fund, which is administered by the Red Cross, some farmers cannot be given money because their properties and homes are owned by a business or a trust.
Tax laws forbid the Red Cross donating to commercial enterprises on pain of losing its charity status, she said.
About 18 houses were lost in the area around Jindivick, about 10kilometres north of Warragul.
Federal MP Bill Shorten, parliamentary secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction, said yesterday that he would visit Jindivick.
“I don’t dismiss these concerns,” he said. If some people had fallen through the cracks of the bushfire relief system “we just have to track them down and work it all through”.
He said it was appropriate the tens of millions of dollars already paid out went to “first-tier victims” but it was also important the tax system did not disadvantage others in need.
He said he planned to meet the Red Cross and bushfire appeal chief John Landy to discuss issues including tax rules.
Mr Read said the Jindivick store’s turnover had halved since Black Saturday because farmers were not spending. Many did not qualify for receive aid as they do not earn 51per cent of their income from the farm, he said.
But local dairy farmer Jill, who did not want her surname used, said many were pushed to take on jobs outside the farms when the price of milk halved abruptly late last year.
Since the fire, income had dropped again for several reasons: the flow of milk fell in cows not milked during the crisis; many cows developed mastitis, which required expensive medication and produced poorer-quality milk that attracted a lower price; and feeding pastures had been burnt.
“Then you still have to find money to re-sow and replace fencing. We’re up for $18,000 for grass seed alone, without paying someone to put the grass seed into the ground. Everyone’s struggling to keep going.
“We have received a small amount through the Gippsland relief fund but nothing through the Red Cross.”
Ms Mason said she and her business partners at the store were among those who had fallen through the cracks because their property had not burned. “We had a case manager come to talk to us and she said: ‘You just don’t fit in anywhere. You’re going to go broke.’ And we said, ‘Thanks very much!’
“And she said, ‘We can offer you counselling!”‘
Mr Shorten said the Government was sensitive to the problems of small business following the fires and had a $10 million plan for the tourism industry.
He said 900 payments had already been made to small businesses.

First published in The Age.