State and federal agriculture ministers from across the country have made a commitment to stand together "shoulder to shoulder" to help rural and regional communities through the current drought crisis and into recovery once it does rain, during a special meeting in Moree on Tuesday.
The agriculture ministers from each state and territory, as well as federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie and Drought Minister David Littleproud, came together in Moree on Tuesday, December 10, to discuss a unified national drought strategy and to see first-hand the toll the prolonged dry is taking on local communities.
The AgMin Meeting was called by NSW Drought Minister Adam Marshall, who said it was an "honour and a real privilege" to bring his agricultural colleagues from the commonwealth, states and territories to Moree - "the heart of the beautiful North West of NSW".
"For the drought crisis in our state, this is really ground zero," he said.
"Already this morning we've been out on farm talking to farmers about their drought preparations, their experiences dealing with drought and also various support measures in place by both commonwealth and state governments.
"But today is all about bringing all the ag ministers together for a special meeting on drought, here in a drought-affected community to look at the current suite of measures, to talk about new measures going forward and how we can work more constructively together as both state and commonwealth governments with our respective local councils, to really deliver the best possible support and assistance through drought and importantly that unenviable task of helping our communities and farmers rebuild, hopefully in 2020 when some areas of our country come out of drought and move into drought recovery."
During their time in Moree on Tuesday, the ministers visited Daniel and Rebecca Reardon's 'Lairdoo' property to get a first-hand look at how the drought is impacting farmers.
The third-generation farmers, who run a mixed farming operation south-east of Moree, are, like most farmers, feeling the pinch of the drought, with massive overhead costs and no income coming in. This year's winter crop only produced five per cent of a normal year - their worst harvest ever - while the costs of feeding their 1500 head of sheep are adding up and they're faced with the difficult decision of whether to offload more or hang on until the drought breaks.
The Reardons spoke to the ministers about some of the challenges with the current drought support measures, such as the complication of the multiple different loans on offer, and what they'd like to see come from the meeting.
"I'd like to see some focus on the here and now, the recovery and the future as well," Mrs Reardon said.
"Here and now we have to get farmers out the other end. The recovery phase is not going to be, 'oh it's rained'; we need to think about how we support them as we build back that equity in our business, to give us that robustness in our business.
"And we need to think in the future, and if we have these droughts in the future, how do we allow farmers to stand on their own two feet? Because at the moment, we are doing everything they say you need to do and we are really feeling this drought, so something like some sort of protection or income insurance would be good. I would like to see them at least cover overheads, just those basics to get us through."
Federal Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie said parliament recently passed a second round of reforms to simplify the Farm Household Allowance to make it easier for farmers like the Reardons to apply.
"They know they're going to get a drought one in five years here but the rest of the years are going to be bumper," she said.
"They've done everything right from farm management deposit schemes through to purchasing off-farm assets to mitigate that drought year and yet, two bad years in a row have really, really taken a toll on them. And they are telling us that they are now going to be seeking the sort of responses that our government's been able to put on the table, so things like extending the asset class to $5.5 million for on and off-farm assets, so farmers like Bec and Dan, who've diversified their asset class, they will actually be able to get that Farm Household Allowance, that cash injection on the kitchen table, to be able to ensure that they have enough money to pay for groceries, make sure their kids can still participate in their local footy clubs and netball clubs."
Ms McKenzie said it's not just farmers who are suffering from the effects of drought, but small business owners, "who are going to be there to support our farmers once the rains do come, once we are in recovery".
"So it's important that our drought response, as Mr Littleproud said, is flexible, is nuanced, is responsive as the drought has continued and that's exactly what we've been doing," she said.
Federal Minister for Drought David Littleproud said drought extends past the farm gate and into the communities that support farmers, which is why it's important that the government has a holistic approach to drought support.
"There's just not one silver bullet to this apart from rain," he said.
"So we've got to continue to look at different mechanisms to make sure we touch every part of these fragile economies out here, to support them until it rains.
"This is something as a nation, if we work together, shoulder to shoulder, we will get not only our farmers but our regional communities through one of the worst droughts in living memory."
One of the government's drought response measures has been the recent appointment of Shane Stone AC QC as the coordinator general of drought and north Queensland floods.
Mr Stone was also in Moree on Tuesday as his first official outing in his new role, and said it's going to be a "long, hard grind" to recover from this drought.
"There is no magic bullet or formula in all of this," he said.
"They key to what we are going to do will turn on collaboration and that is federal, state, territory, local government and community level. It's about simplification, that is to make it easier for people to access the support that is on offer, and there is a lot of support, but I do accept that people are a bit put-off by the forms and everything else that comes with it.
"The final point is urgency, call to action. It's no good people waiting for weeks and months for things to happen. There is a great sense of urgency and I'm confident in everyone working in collaboration that we will be able to make a difference."
The story Ag ministers to work 'shoulder to shoulder' to help on drought first appeared on Moree Champion.