THERE were tears of desperation, pleas for common sense and calls for a major overhaul of long term drought policy when landholders met Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey and Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, in Charleville and Mitchell last Thursday.
Landholders told the ministers that their industries were in “crisis” and called on the Federal Government to do more to help producers through the current drought.
The Ministers initially flew into Mitchell where they met briefly with about 30 landholders before heading to Charleville to tour a local beef property and attend another landholder forum.
The media were locked out of the second meeting in Charleville but there was no disguising the passionate presentations made by attending landholders and local government representatives.
“We wanted them to know that the bush is in crisis,” Wyandra landholder Tricia Agar said.
“Due to reasons largely beyond our control including the live export debacle, the ongoing drought and crash of market prices they need to know that the bush is actually in crisis.”
Mrs Agar told the meeting that farmers were already “punching well above their weight” but were at a point where they needed assistance.
“Eleven per cent of Australians live in rural and regional areas and only 3pc of them are farmers and graziers and they produce 93pc of what Australians consume,” she said.
“We also export 60pc of everything that we produce.
“It is in the national interest to keep us all here. We need support in the short term and some change of policy in the longer term.”
Bulloo Shire Mayor, Tractor Ferguson, said cost of living was a major issue for people in his region.
Cr Ferguson said many families were paying up to $700 a week just for groceries while a 45kg cylinder of gas cost Thargomindah residents $240.
“I have spoken to local businesses about it and they say the freight has virtually doubled since they took the rail away,” he said.
Cr Ferguson called on the Federal Treasurer to consider a tax rebate zone to help offset the high cost of living in rural and remote Australia.
“They have got to start looking at the difference between regional Australia and rural and remote Australia,” he said.
“It’s getting harder and harder to live in rural and remote Queensland. We are at the bottom of the food chain and we are paying through the nose for it.”
Other issues raised by landholders at Charleville included the cost of education for remote families, high production costs for primary producers and the need to nationalise farm debt mediation legislation.
Maranoa Mayor, Robert Loughnan, said several key issues were raised at the Mitchell meeting including the need for an exceptional circumstances program and the need for a more proactive approach to drought, rather than a reactionary approach.
Cr Loughnan said landholders were also extremely concerned about massive populations of kangaroos.
“I’m thrilled that we were able to bring our senior politicians face-to-face with a large group of drought affected graziers from the Mitchell area,” he said.
“We had a lot of landholders from down on the River (south west of Mitchell) and there were a few tears which was understandable.
“I think people were just really grateful for the fact that they dropped in and appreciated the opportunity to get a hearing.”
Mr Hockey and Mr Joyce released a joint statement on Thursday evening defending the $320 million Drought Support Package that was announced in November and extended in February.
The statement said the Commonwealth was currently rolling out a range of measures including Drought Concessional Loans, Farm Finance Concessional Loans, Farm Household Allowance, pest management funding, water infrastructure funding and social support measures.