October showdown for shires left out of drought program

Quilpie and Boulia mayors to meet with deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss in October to discuss eligibility for Drought Communities Program.


Quilpie and Boulia mayors hope an October 22 meeting with the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Warren Truss will resolve an anomoly that sees their shires still unable to access $1.5m in drought relief funding.

A map of the shires eligible for funding under the federal Drought Communities Program. Quilpie mayor Stuart Mackenzie says his shire's "island" status is hard to understand.

A map of the shires eligible for funding under the federal Drought Communities Program. Quilpie mayor Stuart Mackenzie says his shire's "island" status is hard to understand.

An October 22 date has been set for Quilpie and Boulia shire mayors to put their case to be included in the federal Drought Communities Program to the deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss in Canberra.

Speaking from Longreach last week, Mr Truss announced that both shires remained ineligible for the new funding package despite being drought declared by state authorities since 2013.

“As part of the assessment, the data supplied hasn’t changed Quilpie or Boulia’s status,” he said. “They don’t meet the criteria of a one in 20 year deficiency by 20 per cent of the shire.”

They had been left off a list of shires eligible for funding that was announced in July, along with Richmond and Barcoo shires, all of whom had been asked to supply extra data in order to be reviewed.

Rubbing salt into the wound, Mr Truss announced last week that Richmond and Barcoo shires, plus Coonamble in New South Wales, had become eligible in the new drought relief infrastructure program, saying they had provided the demonstrations asked for.

Boulia mayor Rick Britton believed the problem lay in a lack of official rain gauges across the vast areas of Boulia and Quilpie shires.

Taking time out from another round of mustering to further reduce stock numbers on his property, Cr Britton said his staff would be speaking with the Bureau of Meteorology to pinpoint the problem.

“We want to know how they came up with the figures they did, what information did they give to the federal government.”

Boulia was one of the first shires drought-declared in 2013, which should be a signal to the federal government, according to Cr Britton.

“State, federal and local government are supposed to be working together but I’m not seeing much of that here.”

South West Regional Development Association (RED) chairman, Lindsay Godfrey described the criteria for eligibility as “flawed and inconsistent” in an open letter to Mr Truss calling for an urgent meeting.

“Forcing farmers and individuals to collect rainfall data privately due to an absence of Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) sites is not a good basis for sound policy,” he said.

“The rainfall data required for the eligibility criteria is from April 2013- March 2015, yet the Quilpie weather station has not formally recorded data from March, 2014.

“The lack of technology and lack of data used to support ethical decision making regarding such important decisions is unreasonable and unfair.”

Cr Godfrey added that it had placed local federal member, Bruce Scott, in an awkward position.

Both the SW RED and the Quilpie shire called for an urgent meeting to discuss the issues raised.

Quilpie mayor Stuart Mackenzie told the deputy Prime Minister that the government decision has had a significant detrimental effect on his communities.

Stuart Mackenzie in a drought-stricken Quilpie landscape this week.

Stuart Mackenzie in a drought-stricken Quilpie landscape this week.

“Residents, both on properties and in towns, have been suffering for too long and are taking this decision as a personal affront on their hard work and commitment during this devastating climatic event.”

Mr Truss’s office said that discussions with the  councils were ongoing and he will continue to consider their inclusion in the Drought Communities Program.

“The deputy Prime Minister is keen to continue working with shires on these matters. Arrangements for a meeting on 22 October in Canberra will be made,” a spokesman said.

The Drought Communities Program has been introduced to generate greater economic stability in regional areas impacted by low rainfalls, via $35m over four years for local infrastructure initiatives in eligible drought-affected communities.

Of the 14 shires originally granted eligible status, only five have so far submitted proposals, according to Mr Truss.

He warned that shires needed to have applications lodged by December 24 or their eligibility may lapse.


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