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AgLife: Drought policy and ambiguity

Is there anyone out there who really understands drought policy and what is available for farmers?

Where do you start? Who is eligible and for what?

The very day Scott Morrison became Prime Minister, he made the drought a priority. 

Frankly, if I hear one more Coalition MP say they can’t make it rain, I’ll scream. Duh! We know that. Farmers need to know there is a future for them and that they have the broader Australian community support.

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And while I’m being frank, appointing former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce as drought envoy was about as useful as teats on a bull. 

Can anyone tell me what outcomes we got from that? When I asked Mr Joyce why he hadn’t visited drought-stricken East Gippsland, he replied, ‘Well I haven’t been invited. I can’t just lob up there!’ Well, yes you could have. That was your job. Anyway, he’s no longer the drought envoy and reportedly didn’t even provide the Prime Minister with documentation of his work. 

The Morrison government has created a $3.9-billion future fund. It’s all about ‘building resilience’. Yes, like you, I’m not sure what that means and who can access that money.

Google ‘Future Drought Fund’ and have a look at the website. Good luck with that.

The one major thing farmers at last year’s National Drought Forum called for, and are still calling for, is some form of insurance to cover for drought. It can, and has been done, in North America.

But Federal Drought Minister David Littleproud has ruled out government interfering in the private sector. You can hardly blame potential insurers. 

With the sudden financial sector shift to mitigating against climate change, affordable insurance policies are not going to be coming out of the woodwork. Minister Littleproud this week took it to the states demanding they, ‘stop kicking the can down the road’. 

The states are now reportedly standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the Feds. But they all have different approaches. For instance, NSW pays farmers fodder subsidies. That’s greatly appreciated there, but farmers in East Gippsland say it just artificially increases the price of hay. 

I can remember studying the ‘salient points of drought policy’ at agricultural college in the early 1980s. And here we are, still floundering around trying to work out how to ‘drought proof’ our farms.

Linda Botterill, political scientist at the University of Canberra, says Australia hasn’t had a national drought policy since 2008 with the rather clumsy exceptional circumstances provisions. 

Surely we can come up with something better than that? Frankly, as the cultural divide between city and country expands, I fear the political will diminishes.

Farmers need to come up with solutions, rather than just pointing out the obvious problems. 

And, as we saw when the millennial drought broke, when we are delivered the inevitable flooding rains, it will all be yesterday’s headlines and tomorrow’s fish a chip wrapping if our political leaders aren’t given something more fundamental to work with.

The entire December 18, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire December 18,, 2019 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!