Dealing with the drought
Changes to help better prepare and recover
IT’S easy to be sceptical about events like the recent National Drought Summit, but I was pleased to see a strong spirit of co-operation and a bi-partisan commitment towards improving drought policy.
There was a significant presence from the Federal Government led by the Prime Minister and Federal Agriculture Minister, while Queensland was well represented on the day, with the Premier, Queensland Agricultural Industry Development Minister and Drought Commissioners taking part.
The big announcement was the $3.9 billion Future Drought Fund, building to $5 billion, which will fund initiatives that improve drought resilience, preparedness and recovery across regional Australia.
AgForce has long been advocating an Agricultural Business Cycle framework for better structuring and delivering drought policy and assistance measures, and it is expected this new fund will support and advance this concept.
We were particularly pleased to see the funding for emergency water infrastructure rebates as AgForce and the Queensland Government have been calling for this top-up funding since it ran out in January 2015.
This program will provide financial assistance for stock watering infrastructure on drought-affected farms, with the Queensland and Federal governments sharing the costs.
AgForce’s recent drought survey identified on-farm infrastructure investment as a top priority for farmers, and the inclusion of dam desilting activities had been sought for a long time.
We also thank the Federal Government for the ongoing support it is providing to local governments to invest in local projects.
Investment in capital works projects not only builds regions and generates employment opportunities, it also provides an opportunity to connect communities and provide stability.
AgForce would like to see even more infrastructure investment in regional areas, particularly funding for the Inland Queensland Roads Action Plan.
A key finding in our recent drought survey was that farmers were finding it harder to know where to go to get information on drought and support options.
That’s why the establishment of the “Farm Hub” is welcome and will meet a real need.
The Farm Hub will be an online portal co-ordinated by the National Farmers’ Federation that will go live by the end of the year and function as a one-stop shop for information on drought and drought assistance.
Other good initiatives announced at the drought summit included an additional $11 million for expanded mental health services and $30 million for selected charities to continue their work supporting farming families facing hardship.
Ongoing, embedded mental health services in communities are crucial for supporting resilience during and after drought events, while many charities have been doing a great job helping not just farmers, but entire communities that are doing it tough.
Drought has such a big impact on Australian agriculture and extended dry periods are a recurring feature, so we need governments at all levels and politicians on all sides to work with industry on a sustainable approach to manage this issue both now and into the future.
DROUGHT-AFFECTED: AgForce general president Grant Maudsley on Macsland Station.