Monday, 27 May 2019
LAST week I had the opportunity to visit rural communities in my electorate and throughout Western NSW, which are grappling the severe impacts of the current drought.
I travelled hundreds of kilometres, spoke to dozens of people and visited towns from Broken Hill to Moree. And there’s one message that came through loud and clear: our farmers and bush communities are doing it tough and we as a Government need to continue providing drought assistance and do more.
The current drought continues unabated despite many areas receiving good falls in early May. Around 98 per cent of the state remains in drought and unfortunately the outlook for the coming months is not promising.
The short term outlook is for dry conditions across much of the state and an El Niño alert has been issued. Thankfully, the indications are that this El Niño may be short lived. We all hope to see this drought break soon.
But we must be prepared for the worst.
The NSW Government’s Emergency Drought Assistance Package has already made available $1.5 billion in assistance to our farmers, and our rural and regional communities. This assistance has allowed our farmers to purchase much needed fodder and to upgrade their infrastructure to manage the impacts of drought.
I’m pleased to say many of the farmers I spoke to told me these measures had helped. In particular, programs like the Farm Innovation Fund, which allows farmers to improve their resilience and adopt best practice, were well received by our primary producers.
So too were initiatives like the waiving of Local Land Service fees and fixed water charges. Cash flow has become a key issue for many landholders and we as a Government can help tackle that issue by reducing, where possible, hip-pocket pressure on our farmers.
Visiting townships such as Nyngan, Cobar and Bourke, it also became apparent that it’s not only our farmers who are suffering through these very challenging conditions.
Drought has a ripple effect that spreads through our rural and regional communities and through associated industries like stock and station agents, cattle buyers, agricultural contractors, professional services, shops and schools. The feedback I received was that Government needed to look at providing additional support to help stimulate our rural economies and businesses.
I’ve been amazed by the sheer resilience and determination of those I met on my drought listening tour.
I’ve listened to the message coming from our rural and regional communities and I will be taking that message back to Government this week as Parliament resumes and as I work with the Deputy Premier on a new round of drought assistance.