With the surge in the number of agencies assisting in Australia’s drought crisis, questions have been asked about the amount of duplication that could be occurring, but the Prime Minister’s drought coordinator, Major General Stephen Day has given assurances that these are being addressed.
Speaking after a two-way information exchange with primary producers at Warwick last month, General Day said while there had been some challenges with charities, the work was being done by great Australians trying to help their fellow citizens in a time of need.
“But this drought affects so many people over such a large geographic area, and in some very isolated parts of our country, that accurately targeting the charity is a challenge,” he said.
“What I've done to try and help that is, pull together 24 of the larger charities that are involved in this space, and have encouraged them to work together.
“What they've agreed to do is work in four or five separate groups of similar endeavour, so that those who are involved in helping with feed for example, they've agreed to work together to swap data on where they're going and where they haven't been, to try and avoid that duplication and cover any gaps.”
Read more: Drought funds must flow beyond the farm gate
One of those overseeing the delivery of cash to communities, Rotary district 9630 drought relief committee chairman, Phillip Charles, said while duplication may happen under their system, no-one was competing.
“Recipients aren’t known to us – Rural Financial Counselling Service staff distribute our vouchers because they know who’s really in need, so I suppose there could be double-ups,” he said.
“We didn’t want to put any Rotarian in a position of judgement.
“I don’t see it as a problem because the vouchers aren’t huge amounts. A $500 voucher would get eaten up quickly in a couple of grocery bills.”
Mr Charles said the alternative was to “screw it down, so that no-one gets anything, and the people who really need it miss out”.
Rather than rorting systems, he said people had gone so far as to return $250 vouchers with a small cheque of their own, and a request to put them to use elsewhere.
South West Rotary has adopted a position of working in with other organisations in the communities they are delivering cash to, Mr Charles said, to be most effective.
“We’re not in competition with anyone,” he said.
Morven’s Michael Davis, one of the recipients of Australia’s generosity via the Drought Angels/RACQ Foundation Rural Day Out last Saturday, said he had noticed some double-up in assistance over the six or so years that drought has been biting.
He believed it was beneficial in the end, as people who missed out through no fault of their own, thanks to unexpected commitments – breakdowns, a sick family member – were given another opportunity to benefit.
“There are seven or eight charities working in south west Queensland – their drives are so efficient these days,” he said.
Mr Davis’ concern was with what he saw as a lack on the part of governments that meant the various charities had had to step in.
“There’s something lacking in small communities if this is needed,” he said. “If you had thriving communities when droughts started, they could look after their own.”
He said long-term employment via the decentralisation of government agencies needed to be incorporated into government drought responses.
Local government lead role push
At their annual conference at the end of October, Queensland councils vowed to push for a coordinated approach to tackling the impact of drought on regional communities.
Local Government Association of Queensland delegates resolved that the LGAQ deliver a formal motion to state and federal governments to adopt a bipartisan, coordinated and whole-of-government response to the impacts of ongoing drought in Queensland communities.
Drought and the policy responses dominated the list of LGAQ annual conference motions, which president, Mark Jamieson said made it plain that the impacts on regional and rural Queensland are profound, long lasting and now central to the challenge member councils have in serving their communities.
He said drought had become a priority policy issue for all levels of government.
“However, it is local government that has the most knowledge and experience of its impact on local communities and, therefore, local government with the insight to identify what is lacking in existing policy responses to drought,” he said.
“It is time all levels of government took a more strategic view of what is and is likely to remain, the fiercest challenge that regional communities across Australia face.”
Differences in droughts
Barcaldine Regional Council mayor, Rob Chandler, said there were big differences between droughts in Queensland and NSW, which needed different responses.
“The Queensland one has been slow and very hurtful to a lot, whereas the NSW drought happened a lot quicker because they’re a lot smaller.
“They’re usually still stocked up whereas western Queenslanders are ruthless, and truckloads of stock are gone if there’s no rain by February.
“You’ve got to go back to 1983 – 35 years ago – to find a similar drought in Queensland, when there was no agistment for relief.”
He said his council had adopted the principle of converting the cash they were given by well-wishers into vouchers with a council logo that could only be spent locally, redeemable through a council trust account.
“Experience has shown us that it’s cash that goes around a town.”