Drought in Western NSW and Queensland

Opinion Piece

JMO001/2018

14 June 2018

published in the Queensland Country Life

As Australians we all know that drought is a part of life, but as we witnessed last week during a tour of some of our most drought-stricken regions in Western NSW and Qld, with varying levels of severity and duration, governments need to continue to monitor each regional community.

On this tour I joined the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Rural Health Minister and Agriculture Minister to discuss the worsening drought conditions with mayors, farmers and business owners.

The trip confirmed my very real concerns about the impact of this drought, but also reinforced my great admiration for the resilience and determination of rural communities.

Some of these regions have been in the grip of drought for almost seven years—taking its toll on nearly every aspect of life—yet the locals are determined to see it through. They are proud people and they want their properties, businesses and communities to soldier on.

In Trangie we met Phillip and Ashlea Miles, with sons Harry and Jack. Young Jack was nestled into his father’s shoulder as Phillip and Ashlea outlined the challenges they face on their property ‘Strathmore’.

It is clear this young family is committed to the land—but like so many others are locked in an ongoing battle with Mother Nature as this drought continues.

In Blackall we met with mayors from across Western Queensland at the town’s historic wool scour.

They told of the immense impacts this prolonged drought is having on landholders as well as local communities.

They also reported on some measures that have been highly successful including improvements to wild dog control through individual and cluster fence programs.

The Federal Coalition Government support for the predator fences was much appreciated in helping producers lift lambing rates and take advantage of buoyant prices for sheep meat and wool.

This feedback and the many stories we heard on this trip were invaluable as the Coalition Government works to fine tune its drought support measures moving forward.

Working with local communities in the worst drought affected regions of Australia is a key part of the Coalition’s broader plan for regional Australia.

Federally we have already supported drought-affected communities through measures including low-interest loans and the Farm Household Allowance.

In Charleville, the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced a further $20 million to keep Rural Financial Counselling Services going for a further two years across drought stricken areas. There was also a $2 million commitment to support two key organisations delivering mental health services to these communities via tele-health.

As a former Agriculture Minister in Queensland—I was at the forefront of formulating responses to drought, including fodder and water freight subsidies and rebates for emergency water infrastructure for livestock welfare. As Federal Regional Development Minister these days, I appreciate more than ever the broader impacts on local communities, towns and other local businesses.

We can’t make it rain, but we can work to review and fine tune the range of support measures on offer to help farmers prepare for and endure an increasingly variable climate.

I am working with local councils, which are often the largest employers in western communities. They are focussed on local works programs, like the existing Drought Communities Program, to ensure ongoing work for council work teams, using locally-sourced materials and local contractors.

As we all grapple with these challenges, I will be thinking about young Jack and the local leaders we met in Western Queensland, the pride they all have in rural life and the desire to pass on something special to the next generation of people wanting to live and work in regional Australia.