Commission of ruin

FARMERS could find themselves on the verge of financial ruin if proposals to slash vital services are adopted, according to local industry professionals.

An audit of the nation's finances, which recommended slashing essential water, agricultural and environmental services, has been flatly rejected by locals.

The Commission of Audit recommended stopping all spending on water-saving infrastructure in the Murray-Darling Basin at the conclusion of current programs, halving the national Landcare program and abolishing the Rural Financial Counselling Service.

Also among the 86 suggestions to save roughly $70 billion a year within a decade was raising the pension age to 70, a fee of $15 for every GP appointment and the axing of 15,000 public servants.

Rural financial counsellor Kevin McCrum said it was likely more farmers would find themselves in financial trouble if the free service, which has been operating since 1986, was scrapped.

"It's absolutely an important service as it's somewhere for farmers to go when they're in trouble," Mr McCrum said.

"If people were forced to pay for the service it's quite possible there would be more farmers getting into financial trouble and not knowing where to turn.

"Farmers don't always know their legal rights and we can advocate for them or outline their options and offer them an avenue to negotiate with the banks and financial institutions."

The audit said federal Landcare funding should be cut in half because private landholders were reaping most of the benefits, an assertion Murrumbidgee Landcare Inc. program manager Marion Benjamin dismissed.

"The National Landcare Program funds the only person in the whole catchment who works directly with community groups to assist them to do Landcare work and it would be appalling to lose her," she said.

"Landcare is an efficient way to deliver environmental change because for every dollar the government puts in, the community Landcare movement is putting in between $1 to $6 back in kind.

"For grassroots community Landcare, which is who we represent, the proposed cuts would be terrible and locals would miss out on skills to effectively manage the local environment."

The audit also found the Murray-Darling Basin would be an unnecessary impost on government in the future.

"While the return of water from these measures provides public benefits, these can be obtained at a lower per-unit cost via water entitlement buybacks," the report said.

"To the extent that any further water recovery is provided, these should be obtained via on-market buybacks."

Treasurer Joe Hockey will reveal which of the recommendations are adopted when he unveils the federal budget next Tuesday.


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