Déjà vu as PM vis­its re­gion

Dubbo Photo News - - News - News anal­y­sis by JOHN RYAN

DÉJÀ vu. John Howard. Déjà vu. Kevin Rudd. Déjà vu. Tony Ab­bott. Now Déjà vu, Mal­colm Turnbull.

All well-in­ten­tioned prime min­is­ters, of that there’s no doubt.

The idea is that if the PM ar­rives to a dev­as­tated drought-stricken prop­erty, and there’s a photo op­por­tu­nity with a hard-work­ing farm­ing fam­ily and their kids scratch­ing around in the dirt, that it will in­voke sym­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing in metropoli­tan ar­eas.

And that’s great.

But we also need the PM and his en­tourage – and the na­tional me­dia pack – to visit land where farm­ers and gra­ziers have made the changes that have kept them far more in­su­lated from these ex­tended dry times, and I could take them to 20 places to­mor­row.

I told Mal­colm Turnbull dur­ing the press con­fer­ence at Trangie that as he drove into Nar­romine from Dubbo there were hun­dreds of acres of salt­bush on his left, and that Nar­romine dis­trict gra­zier Andrew Sip­pel had so much feed from his “liv­ing haystacks” that he was fat­ten­ing his sheep for mar­ket beau­ti­fully, and with­out any sup­ple­men­tary feed­ing at all.

At the press con­fer­ence we heard all about the hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars that have been spent by or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Grains Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (GRDC), but de­spite all the work done by many govern­ment-funded groups, we’re still not re­al­is­ing the full po­ten­tial ben­e­fits as we swing in to drought af­ter drought af­ter drought.

We could scrap much of the bu­reau­cracy and in­vest that money far more wisely; for ex­am­ple, we could of­fer in­cen­tives for farm­ers to plant salt­bush.

Andrew Sip­pel be­lieves the dol­lar cost is the ma­jor de­ter­rent to the re-es­tab­lish­ment of this amaz­ing plant, a na­tive shrub which the NSW Agri­cul­ture de­part­ment said was a mir­a­cle feed­stock but was in dan­ger of be­ing over-grazed out of ex­is­tence as early as the late 1890s.

“Ac­cess to cap­i­tal is the big­gest hold-back to plant­ing more salt­bush, that’s what farm­ers are telling me, so (the govern­ment should be in­tro­duc­ing) low or zero in­ter­est long-terms loans sim­i­lar to the old Com­mon­wealth De­vel­op­ment Bank loans which had money avail­able for long term pos­i­tive projects,” Mr Sip­pel said.

“The prime min­is­ter and agri­cul­ture min­is­ter are very wel­come to visit my farm at any time to see how farm­ers can cope dur­ing ex­tended droughts with­out hav­ing to pay through the nose for bales of hay from South Aus­tralia, and then have to pay the trans­port costs to get (that feed) all the way up here.”

At the start of the fa­mous Mil­len­nium Drought, I talked the then NSW Premier Bob Carr into vis­it­ing the Sip­pels’ farm.

He brought the state press corps with him and I thought the pictures would tell the story, but as a group they couldn’t have been less in­ter­ested – they just wanted pictures of dy­ing sheep and cry­ing farm­ers.

It seems ‘so­lu­tions’ don’t sell news­pa­pers.

A ewe sleeps with her lamb at the Sip­pels’ prop­erty last week. The sur­round­ing salt­bush is pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion from the cold southerly wind as well as pro­vid­ing all the feed they need.

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