A perplexed Australian council has rejected $1 million in drought assistance, saying such relief is not needed as the lush area is far from being in drought.
Moyne, a region in Victoria state, southeastern Australia, was approved for $1 million in funding from the Drought Communities Programme, which provides financial support to drought-affected parts of the country.
But local councilors decided to reject the offer of funding Tuesday, insisting that the area was not in drought and that other regions were in greater need.
In fact, Moyne experienced above average rainfall and localized flooding in August.
“We are not in any drought position down here,” Mick Wolfe, mayor of Moyne Shire, told CNN affiliate Sky News Australia. “You can drive down to Mortlake today — it is green, the cows and the sheep are feeding well, there’s water lying in paddocks,” he said.
“We appreciate the offer, but give it to somebody that really needs it,” he told Sky News Australia.
Wolfe added that he wanted the federal government to reallocate the funds to those in need of assistance, and that he welcomed a government audit of the data which had suggested that Moyne was in drought.
In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Drought Statement” published on its Facebook page — accompanied with an image of cows grazing in a green pasture underneath a rainbow — Moyne Shire Council said it was “surprised” to be eligible for the funding.
“As this Program is for regional areas experiencing hardship through the effects of drought, Moyne was surprised to be included as a shire now eligible to apply for a grant of up to $1 million,” the council said.
Tom Saunders, chief meteorologist at Sky News Australia, also noted that the region received roughly 100 milliliters of rain in August, which was “above average” and caused “localized minor flooding.”
“That southwest corner of Victoria is one of the only agricultural parts of Southern Australia that has actually received close to normal rain fall,” he added.
The decision to allocate funds to Moyne has sparked criticism from politicians in Australia’s opposition Labor party.
In a press release, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources Joel Fitzgibbon revealed that he has asked the auditor-general to investigate the government’s drought programs.
“As large parts of Australia suffer the worst drought on record, the Government’s response has been ad hoc, confusing and lacking in direction,” Mr Fitzgibbon said, commenting on Twitter that drought-affected communities “deserve to know where the money has been spent.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the move on Monday, saying he was happy to be accused of being “too generous,” CNN affiliate 9News reported.
“I think he’s just keen to get the money out the door and make sure our farmers have the support they need,” Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie told 9News.
The Australian government’s Bureau of Meteorology reported that from July 2018 to June 2019, conditions were drier than average in Australia, leading to an “intensification of drought conditions” over many parts of the country.
Parts of Australia, including northern and inland New South Wales and southern Queensland, have been in drought since 2016, Reuters news agency reported.