A stoush between the Member for Gregory and the state’s Agriculture Minister has highlighted the uncertainty surrounding the drought declaration and revocation process in Queensland.
It has prompted the Central Highlands Regional Council mayor, Kerry Hayes to suggest the process should be refreshed as part of the state government drought review.
His comments come in the wake of a call by Gregory MP, Lachlan Millar, for the drought declaration in the Central Highlands region to be re-established as a matter of urgency, and Agriculture Minister, Mark Furner’s response that Mr Millar had no idea how the drought declaration process worked.
Mr Millar’s call came in the wake of news on Wednesday that Mr Furner had partially drought declared the Western Downs Regional Council area.
This followed sustained pressure on the government, by the Member for Warrego, Ann Leahy, to put the region back on the drought declared list.
Mr Millar immediately announced that Mr Furner had snubbed farmers and graziers in the Central Highlands Regional Council region, saying he had again overlooked the area, for drought assistance purposes.
“While the Central Highlands may look ‘green’ – the region is in the grips of a devastating drought which the minister has totally ignored.
“Fairbairn Dam is now under 20 per cent capacity and irrigators will be receiving less than 10pc of their regular allocation this year, due to the ongoing dry.
“And it’s not just irrigators who are feeling the pinch. Farmers and Graziers from Gindie, Duaringa, Dingo, Rolleston, Capella and Springsure have all contacted my office requesting assistance with impacts of the drought.
“Delivering that assistance requires a drought declaration from the minister” he said.
“I’ve called on the minister numerous times to take this issue seriously and recall the Central Highlands Local Drought Committee – but clearly this has fallen on deaf ears.”
Mr Furner responded on Thursday that Mr Millar had no idea how the drought declaration process worked.
He said Local Drought Committees were free to meet at any time of their choosing.
“They do not need to be instructed by the minister if they feel that conditions have deteriorated beyond their original assessment at the end of the wet season,” he said.
When advised of the exchange, Cr Hayes said while he was aware there was a mechanism, it was not clear how it worked.
“I don’t know that these committee have ever been instructed that way,” he said.
“Who makes the call? Is it DAF? Is it the committee’s chair? Or is it triggered by the number of Individual Droughted Property declarations that are received?
“This probably needs a refresh so everyone is clear.”
In August, Mr Furner said he wasn’t in a position to challenge the positions of local committees in respect of the recommendations they’d made.
Cr Hayes had earlier commented that the process of meeting once a year, in April, might need reviewing, given the value of agriculture to the economy and the position producers could find themselves in when the season deteriorated rapidly.
“In situations where conditions were fine, the need for a meeting could be waived,” he said. “It’s not about insulting the volunteer committees, it’s about paying more attention to the process.”
The shire was removed from the list of those drought declared in May 2017, on the recommendation of the local drought committee.
Cr Hayes said it may have been a hasty move, commenting that the shire hadn’t received the rain from Tropical Cyclone Debbie that others in the eastern part of the state had.
There are currently 32 individually droughted properties in the shire.
Mr Furner said Cr Hayes’ comments on the declaration process had merit.
“I encourage him to make appropriate representations to the committee either online or at one of the forums occurring around the state in the next few weeks.”
These are taking place as part of the state government’s Drought Program review currently underway, being run by former QFF CEO, Ruth Wade, and former AgForce CEO. Charles Burke.