Since I was appointed coordinator-general for drought I’ve travelled extensively across our drought-affected regions to listen to those directly affected.
I’ve had hundreds of conversations with farmers and rural communities and what I’ve heard varies widely.
We talk about water, or the lack of it. We talk about how town businesses are faring, fodder, animal welfare and mental health.
We talk about the role that governments should be playing. And we talk about how communities are pulling together to get their neighbours and friends through these tough times.
One issue that has become very clear to me is that information is often difficult to access and misinformation can quickly fill the void.
Word of new initiatives developed by policy makers in our capital cities travels sluggishly to the people who need them, if it gets to them at all.
After water, information is the most important commodity in this drought and it is the one thing we have the ability to make flow.
Last week, the National Farmers’ Federation launched a new website that brings information about drought assistance and support together in the one place.
It is called FarmHub and it has been built with funding from the Australian government.
For those affected by drought and trying to get the support they need to make it through to better times, this is an important initiative.
It will help them to make sure they are utilising all of the assistance they are eligible for.
If connectivity is a problem, and I know for many it is, then a Word document outlining all the Australian government services for drought is available from your local Federal MP or Senator’s office.
FarmHub is an important part of improving the provision of information, but it isn’t the only work we are doing.
The National Drought Map, developed by my team in conjunction with the CSIRO and Data61, brings together agricultural, social and economic data to help policy makers and service providers better plan their assistance measures.
My team has found it particularly useful so we have decided to make it available to the public in the hope that it assists others too.
Users will be able to upload their own data to make maps that suit their needs.
Although FarmHub and the National Drought Map are positive initiatives, they will never replace face to face conversations.
To that end, the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities in partnership with NBN Co are holding information sessions across drought affected communities in NSW.
We are looking at rolling these sessions out across Queensland and South Australia in coming months.
An incredible amount of work is being done across community organisations, businesses and government to support our drought-affected communities.
I have the privilege of seeing it all in action and I plan to provide another short update on what I have seen and am doing in the future.
– Major General Stephen Day, Coordinator-General for Drought