17 January 2000
Government defends new aid claim

THE government has reasserted its claim that there was new money for farmers in its September aid package.

In response to a report by the agriculture select committee on the crisis in the livestock sector the government today (Monday) said the package was worth 537m to the industry.

The agriculture select committee had accused farming minister Nick Brown of disappointing farmers by presenting the package in a format which was difficult to understand.

The announcement was so ambiguous that some media reports subsequently reported the value of the aid as anything between 1m and 500m.

Opposition MPs were incensed by the confusion over figures and newspaper reports talked of “bogus farm aid”.

But in its response out today the government said the package was real money and a significant response to the crisis facing the industry.

And it rejected the distinction made by MPs that there was a difference between deferred charges and money actually paid to farmers.

“The government does not accept the distinction… between new money — money to be paid to farmers — and other benefits accruing to farmers from the deferment of charges which Government was minded to make but chose not to,” the report states.

It added that to regard one type of aid as “unreal” because it did not result in actual payments was akin to asserting that money grows on trees.