Where is the aid?

Prom­i­nent drought char­i­ties Ru­ral Aid (Buy a Bale) and Aussie Helpers in­ves­ti­gated by Aus­tralian reg­u­la­tor

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - . CAS­SAN­DRA GLOVER cas­san­dra.glover@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

MIL­LIONS of dol­lars have been do­nated to drought re­lief char­i­ties Ru­ral Aid and Aussie Helpers.

But many farm­ers are start­ing to ask the ques­tion: Where is the aid?

Char­i­ties say de­mand is so great that scarce re­sources

are stretched be­yond their limit and lo­gis­tics are mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to reach all farm­ers in need.

Ru­ral Weekly spoke to farm­ers from drought-af­fected ar­eas who say they con­tacted drought char­i­ties as a last re­sort, as wa­ter, feed and funds run dry, only to be told they are on a long list of peo­ple wait­ing to be helped.

Ru­ral Weekly has spo­ken to prom­i­nent drought char­i­ties Aussie Helpers and Ru­ral Aid to find out how they op­er­ate and where do­nated funds and goods are go­ing.

AUSSIE HELPERS

AUSSIE Helpers is at Charleville, in west­ern Queens­land.

It is run by Brian and Nerida Egan, along­side their daugh­ters Sam Price (who is chief ex­ec­u­tive) and Tash Kocks.

Aussie Helpers told Ru­ral

Weekly vol­un­teers from the or­gan­i­sa­tion meet farm­ers in­di­vid­u­ally to dis­cuss their needs.

“Farm vis­its are great – peo­ple like know­ing some­one cares. We sit down, have a cuppa and a chat and find out what they need. We take food ham­pers and pam­per packs wher­ever we go,” Aussie Helpers said in a state­ment.

“Then we work out how we can help.

“Ob­vi­ously for ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties like house­hold food and drink­ing wa­ter we get this hap­pen­ing ASAP. Fod­der and feed takes a lit­tle longer to ar­range.

“But if we say we will be back to help we mean it.”

Aussie Helpers also runs AHVISE – a pro­gram that sup­ports re­mote and ru­ral school chil­dren, and the Vir­tual Psy­chol­o­gist pro­gram, in which farm­ing fam­i­lies can call and text free of charge for sup­port when ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, sui­ci­dal thoughts, fail­ure and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Aussie Helpers says it has spent $2.55 mil­lion on aid this year from April to Septem­ber.

This in­cludes $500,000 for pre-paid visa cards, which are to be al­lo­cated to farm­ers in $4000 lots.

Ac­cord­ing to Aussie Helpers, the first batch of visa cards have been given out to farm­ers.

Tash Kocks said about $120,000 of the

$2.55 mil­lion was spent on Vir­tual Psy­chol­o­gist.

Aussie Helpers has 1500 farm­ers on its books, ac­cord­ing to Brian Egan.

“We have prob­a­bly helped 500 or so in NSW alone,” he said.

Aussie Helpers told Ru­ral

Weekly it has five paid staff mem­bers – four full-time staff, com­prised of two of­fice staff, two state co-or­di­na­tors, and a part-time staff mem­ber in the thrift shop.

Aussie Helpers has a shop in Charleville used to sell sec­ond-hand items to help raise funds and owns a port­fo­lio of prop­er­ties in the area used to store and dis­trib­ute goods.

Aussie Helpers ex­plained some do­nated goods “have been specif­i­cally do­nated, to be sold to raise funds”.

This in­cludes charg­ing farm­ers for IBC pods full of do­nated mo­lasses or su­pla base.

Brian Egan said some farm­ers in Dubbo were pre­vi­ously be­ing charged $150 to cover the cost of the freight.

In 2015, Fol­low­mont Trans­port do­nated a prime mover to Aussie Helpers.

The truck was worth more than $70,000. Since then Aussie Helpers has sold the ve­hi­cle.

“Yes, it has been sold. It

was an older ve­hi­cle that be­came cost pro­hib­i­tive in main­te­nance and re­pairs,” Aussie Helpers said.

RU­RAL AID

RU­RAL Aid, also known as Buy a Bale, is a drought char­ity run by Charles and Tracy Alder.

There has been more than $20 mil­lion do­nated to Ru­ral Aid from busi­nesses and or­gan­i­sa­tions this year.

Ru­ral Aid runs many projects, in­clud­ing Buy a Bale, Farm Army, Gift of Mu­sic, Un­der the Stars – Out­back Ex­pe­ri­ence, Ris­ing Tal­ent, Ru­ral Aid Co-or­di­na­tors and Out­door Cinema.

Buy a Bale was orig­i­nally listed un­der Charles Alder’s pre­vi­ous or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Give Back Cam­paign, which went into liq­ui­da­tion in 2016.

Mr Alder also owns and runs a busi­ness, Char­ity Hub Pty Ltd, which fo­cuses on help­ing non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions learn how to grow, be more suc­cess­ful and achieve higher out­comes.

Char­ity Hub also helps char­i­ties find meet­ing places and of­fices.

This in­cludes Ru­ral Aid, which sub­lets an of­fice, 3/8 Cole­bard St, Aca­cia Ridge, Queens­land, from Mr Alder’s busi­ness.

Mr Alder said Ru­ral Aid rented about 25 per cent of the build­ing from Char­ity Hub for $30–$40 per square me­tre.

Mr Alder said he was paid $100,000 a year as the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ru­ral Aid.

The char­ity also has about 26 paid staff, ac­cord­ing to Mr Alder.

“There are 11 coun­sel­lors, two ad­min staff, two in ac­counts, a num­ber that run the Farm Res­cue and Farm Army re­cep­tion and do­na­tion pro­cess­ing,” he said.

Ru­ral Aid has by far re­ceived the most do­na­tions of all the char­i­ties try­ing to help farm­ers in need.

Mr Alder said Ru­ral Aid had re­ceived more than

$10 mil­lion in do­na­tions.

“There have been com­pa­nies that have pledged money to us, and some of those are still com­ing through.

“But it cer­tainly will reach over $20 mil­lion.”

Mr Alder said Ru­ral Aid had a list of 4000–4500 farm­ers await­ing as­sis­tance.

“About 1150 farm­ers that have re­ceived hay from us, over $700,000 in gift cards have been given out, and over 1800 farm­ers have ei­ther had a per­sonal visit or a one-on-one tele­phone call from our of­fice since they’ve reg­is­tered.”

How­ever, high de­mand for as­sis­tance means there have been many farm­ers who have ap­plied for help with Buy a Bale in the hope of get­ting much-needed hay, only to re­ceive lit­tle to no re­sponse.

An­drew Bryant, from Clunes

Cross­ing An­gus Stud in Dalveen, near Stan­thorpe in south­ern Queens­land, said he ap­plied for hay with Buy a Bale as his sit­u­a­tion had be­come more dire.

“We are drought de­clared and I’ve been hunt­ing around for hay, for the sea­son over win­ter,” he said.

“I man­aged to get some from a guy out­side of War­wick and it was dodge and killed a cou­ple of cat­tle.

“I found my­self need­ing help quite ur­gently.”

Mr Bryant said af­ter ap­ply­ing with Buy a Bale and hear­ing noth­ing back, he rang Ru­ral Aid to fol­low up.

“I de­cided to make a call my­self and it was so dis­cour­ag­ing. I was 4000th on the list,” he said.

“For a farmer to reach out for help, they’re in a lot of strife. In my ex­pe­ri­ence it takes a lot for peo­ple in the bush to do that.”

Dis­ap­pointed, Mr Bryant shared a post on Face­book about his ex­pe­ri­ence and sent a pri­vate mes­sage to Buy A Bale ask­ing for a di­rec­tor to call him.

He said when Mr Alder rang, he be­came “de­fen­sive” and was con­cerned about neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity for the char­ity.

“I told him it was easy to source hay, but prices are up and we’re get­ting it from fur­ther away so trans­port prices are up,” he said. “I sug­gested that the best idea to get peo­ple help quickly was to al­low peo­ple to source hay them­selves, and get Buy a Bale to sub­sidise that.

“But they are very strict on how they source hay and how they trans­port hay. They’re not us­ing the ex­per­tise of farm­ers on the ground.”

Mr Bryant be­lieves char­i­ties should let farm­ers source hay them­selves.

Sha­ree Adamson, a farmer from near Sin­gle­ton in NSW, was li­ais­ing with Ru­ral Aid on be­half of her part­ner.

She was go­ing back and forth be­tween calls and mes­sages for more than three months with­out re­ceiv­ing the fod­der they needed.

She did, how­ever, re­ceive gift vouch­ers, in­clud­ing a $200 Wool­worths voucher, a $200 Cal­tex voucher and a $100 BP voucher.

While Ms Adamson said she was grate­ful for the vouch­ers, they couldn’t be used to buy hay for their starv­ing cat­tle. Mr Alder said the short­age of hay had slowed down the amount of farm­ers Ru­ral Aid could help.

“There has been a short­age of hay so, if we can’t source hay we can’t get it to farm­ers,” he said.

“The hay sit­u­a­tion is con­sid­er­ably bet­ter now.

“One trailer of hay takes five days to come across from West­ern Aus­tralia, which might help three farm­ers, with a third of a trailer each.

“Just do the maths. It’s go­ing to take three years to get around to 4000 farm­ers. Which is prob­a­bly go­ing to drive plenty of peo­ple batty.

“We’re try­ing to source it closer so it can get to peo­ple quicker.”

PHOTO: FILE

RU­RAL AID: Charles Alder.

PHOTO: FILE

AUSSIE HELPERS: Brian Egan.

PHOTO: FILE

Aus­tralian farm­ers have be­gun to ask the ques­tion: where is the aid?

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