Where is the aid?
Prominent drought charities Rural Aid (Buy a Bale) and Aussie Helpers investigated by Australian regulator
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 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, 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.”
AUSSIE HELPERS: Brian Egan.
RURAL AID: Charles Alder.
Australian farmers have begun to ask the question: where is the aid?