Surprise twist in mouse plague crisis
Farmers have secured a victory in their battle against a devastating infestation of mice after pressuring the NSW government into releasing $50 million in financial aid.
Farming advocates were hopeful the money, which would come in the form of free grain treatment for farmers and rebates for rural residents buying bait, would help stem the ongoing mouse plague.
The rebates would be worth $500 for households and $1000 for small businesses.
The pests have multiplied rapidly for several months, helped by the same summer rains that came as a relief for drought-stricken farmers.
The rodents have overrun rural towns and farms, and destroyed entire crops in some cases. Many farmers have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into buying poison to kill the rodents chewing through their feed, plants and equipment.
The promise of money for baiting against the pests comes after two senior Nationals ministers went on the attack against NSW Farmers, one of the organisations that has been pleading for financial help.
Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall and Deputy Premier John Barilaro both accused the organisation of pulling a PR stunt after it convened a briefing at parliament on Tuesday that clashed with a joint party room meeting.
Neither minister, nor any other government MP, showed up to the mouse plague briefing.
When asked why, Mr Marshall told NCA NewsWire the organisation had "refused" to move the meeting, which NSW Farmers later denied.
He also said the organisation was "more interested in a headline than a genuine solution".
Opposition MPs seized on those comments in question time on Wednesday, asking Mr Barilaro if he agreed with the minister's attack.
Mr Barilaro responded by doubling down.
"(NSW Farmers chief executive) Peter Arkle jumped in front of a camera, and politicised an issue," Mr Barilaro said.
Mr Marshall, in his initial comments, also said subsidies for bait were "not the most effective way forward" and that "farmers on the ground" had told him that tools were needed, rather than money.
"No amount of money could ever wipe out the mice impacting farmers in parts of the state," Mr Marshall said.
Then on Thursday morning came the backflip.
"We have heard the concerns of regional NSW and we are acting on it," Mr Barilaro said in a joint statement with Mr Marshall announcing the $50 million mouse plague package.
Mr Marshall said he had seen first-hand the scale of the problem.
"They are a scourge on our agricultural production so we are giving landholders a fearsome suite of tools to manage mice," he said.
"Today's announcement of free baits to treat grain almost completely removes the cost burden on our farmers and croppers and complements our popular workshops to arm farmers with the tools needed to build a mice-free fortress to protect their paddocks."
NSW Farmers president James Jackson said he was pleased there would be some relief for farmers.
"We're happy the government is listening," he said.
Mouse plauge is worsening - Maree Pobje from Tottenham has filmed an update, with even more mice pouring out 50m from her house. She says “it is disgusting the Gov isn’t helping with costs as we live in the middle of a plague riddling every surface in our house, clothes & food” pic.twitter.com/Gy7ZRg3Cov— Lucy Thackray (@LucyThack) May 11, 2021
"There will be some here-and-now relief, but we still need to see long term management of mice into the future."
He said the question time attack on Mr Arkle was "inappropriate".
"It's totally inappropriate to attack staff who lobby on the behalf of farmers," he said.
"If there's a problem with NSW Farmers it's fine to attack me, I'm the president and ultimately responsible for the organisation.
"This is really good news but let's remember the plague won't end tomorrow and farmers have already spent millions staving it off."
The government has also offered workshops on the issue, and lobbied the federal agency Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to allow the "off-label use" of zinc phosphide, which means farmers will be able to use stronger doses of the poison to kill mice.
The state Department of Primary Industries also said it would conduct research into the issue.
Originally published as Surprise twist in mouse plague crisis