“Don’t just give us a million dollars and say, see you later – get us building fences, killing weeds and making roads.”
These are the words of Remote Area Planning and Development Board chairman, Rob Chandler, in response to last week’s announcement by Agriculture Minister, Mark Furner, of the locations for the series of six drought forums to held around Queensland, beginning this Friday in Dalby.
Also scheduled for Charleville, Ayr, Cloncurry, Bundaberg and Longreach, they are seeking input from the community on what has worked well, what could be improved, and how to better prepare for future droughts.
They will be part of an overall review implemented by the Queensland government and being run by former AgForce CEO, Charles Burke and former QFF CEO, Ruth Wade.
In addition, written submissions can be made through the drought program review website until October 19.
The need to keep people in employment and local businesses viable are some of the points already being emphasised by those on the ground delivering drought relief in Queensland.
According to Cr Chandler, the need to create jobs in this critical period couldn’t be stated more emphatically.
“Our small towns are needed for Australia to do business so we’ve got to keep them viable,” he said.
“They’re on their proverbial bones at the moment – there’s bits of assistance now but when it rains is when everyone will walk away.
“We’ve got to be in a situation where we can be productive then. It’s not about now, it’s about the five years after it rains.”
The coordination of drought relief was an item raised by Central Highlands Regional Council mayor, Kerry Hayes.
Cr Hayes, who recently queried the mechanism for declaring shires in drought, said people didn’t want to be disrespectful of the generosity shown, but seven or eight relief schemes appeared to be acting concurrently.
One of those, being undertaken by Rotary’s district 9630, covering clubs at Roma, Mitchell, Charleville, and St George, has been quoted as saying a whole of community approach was vital to the survival of the towns being impacted.
District drought coordinator, Phillip Charles, said their voucher distribution scheme received nothing but positive feedback because it not only put money into the towns but enabled recipients to buy what they needed, rather than having goods thrust upon them.
Assistant district governor, Bryan Payne, added that no one method fitted all situations but groups on the ground such as themselves were able to adapt to needs as they arose.
For example, he said that rather than send cash vouchers out with rural financial counsellors on some trips, they were taking packs of meat, as it had been ascertained that a lot of the vouchers were being put towards them anyway.
Read more: Lessons of a five year drought
Six of the state’s shires – Boulia, Diamantina, McKinlay, Murweh, Paroo and Richmond – have been drought declared since April 2013.
Another four – Barcoo, Blackall-Tambo, Quilpie and Winton – joined that list two months later, and Quilpie’s mayor, Stuart Mackenzie, said he would be happy for governments not to have drought support, so long as incentivisation support was constantly available.
This included mitigation strategies for fences to manage grazing pressure, and others to improve water access and to store feed.
As far as participating in the forthcoming forums, Cr Mackenzie said he was a “bit over them”.
“We seem to go through the same process every couple of years,” he said.
“But when you get into serious drought and money is floating around, it’s got to go into vouchers.
“We need a system to pull it all together. What’s the point of people buying food in Coles in Brisbane and putting it into a community with its own shops.”
AgForce is urging Queensland producers to have their say about the effectiveness of drought support measures by completing its online survey now out.
State measures include fodder and water freight subsidies, an emergency water infrastructure rebate, land rent subsidies and deferrals, an electricity charge relief scheme, and farm business debt mediation.
Federal assistance available includes the Farm Household Allowance and access to the Rural Financial Counselling Service.
AgForce CEO, Michael Guerin, said the state government's review of its drought programs was an opportunity to shine a spotlight on what assistance measures are currently in place and what could help producers prepare for future droughts.
"The last major drought survey we did with members was in 2015 and the situation for many farmers has changed significantly since then so we want as many people as possible to complete the survey over the next few weeks,” he said.
Details for the upcoming forums:
- Dalby – September 28 – 12 to 2pm
- Charleville – October 2 – 10am to 12pm
- Ayr – October 3 – 11.30am to 1.30pm
- Cloncurry – October 4 – 11am to 1pm
- Bundaberg – October 5 – 1.30 to 3.30pm
- Longreach – October 8 – 9.30 to 11.30am