Drought support avoids Federation Council

By Corowa Free Press

Federation Council has been sidestepped by the Federal Government’s Drought Communities Program (DCP), missing out on $1 million worth of crucial drought support.

The Australian Government announced $30 million in drought support payments will be made available to farming households in the 81 eligible council areas facing hardship arising from the impact of drought. 

The program delivers significant benefits to targeted drought-affected regions of Australia and supports local and community infrastructure and other drought relief projects for communities impacted by drought.

Significant rainfall at this time of the year is a rarity in the Federation Council region. The 2018 winter period was described as Australia’s fifth-warmest on record according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), with NSW alone recording its eighth-driest winter on record and driest since 2002. Last month was officially Australia’s driest ever September. 

Corowa had just 36.6 millimeters of rain in October this year – nothing in the final 10 days of the month – compared to the 82.3 it welcomed 12 months ago. 

Local firefighters have also expressed major concerns over the upcoming fire season and are preparing for the worst, due to lack of rainfall. 

Farmers who attend the Corowa market have also noticed an increase in lamb prices this year due to the crippling impact of drought.  

Inadequate and poorly distributed rainfall causes a fall in crop production and farmers are faced with harvests that are too small to both feed their families and fulfill their other commitments. 

The Liberal National Government extended the DCP to another 21 local councils across Australia doing it tough, with the Federation Council yet again bypassed. 

Federal Minister for Regional Services Senator Bridget McKenzie said that the DCP had been a vital part of the response to the drought so far because it recognised the flow-on effects of the tough times for farmers affect far more than just their own farm.

“We understand that there are consequences for everyone in regional towns as the drought hits hard. The farmers are the first to feel it through high feed prices and less return on their crops but the costs then flow through the whole community,” Minister Bridget McKenzie said.

“It’s a significant investment in local communities by the Liberal National Government and it’s targeted directly at the bottom line of regional economies by bringing in local councils to deploy the funding. Local government knowledge is critical to ensuring our funding hits the right spot, and gives farmers and business owners alike confidence they can rebound when the drought breaks.” 

Federation Council General Manager Adrian Butler said council was disappointed to again not have been included in the local government areas announced for additional funding, following the recent announcement.

“We have been in contact with our Federal Member, Susan Leys’ office, back when the first announcements were made to some NSW councils months ago, to push the case to unlock funding for our communities,” he said. 

“We understand the government has some very technical rainfall deficiency calculations, and this leads to which council areas receive this latest support, but the frost event in August has not been considered in these calculations to our knowledge.  

“That combined with the general lack of rainfall across most of the council area is having a profound effect on our landholders, producers and industries and we have been very vocal about that.

“Obviously Council is disappointed to not be included in funding opportunities to date, but we will continue to advocate with our local member, not only for our farmers who are facing varying challenges from farm to farm, but for directly impacted small businesses and farm employees who will suffer greatly from the lack of harvest activity this summer.  

“Going forward, despite again being overlooked, we are confident that from continued representations, Susan Ley will continue to lobby hard to work towards unlocking further funding for our residents.”

In extending the program to an extra 21 local councils, the level of need - using rainfall deficiency data from the Bureau of Meteorology, population and industry data (reliance on agriculture) - to assess the overall economic impact of the drought in the region was examined. 

Local fourth generation farmer and Southern NSW Meat Research Council committee member Richard Ham from near Moama, NSW, has been left wondering if the elected representatives for the NSW side of the Murray Valley at both state and federal levels are being taken seriously in the halls of Canberra.

“Water is the only solution to the drought crisis and long term drought proofing. If we can’t make it rain then we need access to the ample supply of water currently in storage dams to grow food, including fodder for stock,” Mr Ham said after his region was also ignored. 

The funding allows councils to choose projects that will have the biggest impact.