Updated Tuesday 10.30am: BRIEF weekend relief for parched southern and tablelands paddocks has been followed by news former NSW Rural Woman of the Year Pip Job has been made the state’s new Drought Co-ordinator.
But today’s announcement in Dubbo was met with a dose of skepticism, with political opponents accusing government of making a “well-paid public service announcement” instead of delivering meaningful long-term drought ction.
More than a third of NSW is in drought or approaching drought, with snow and frosts also biting early, though parts of the Central West, Southern, Riverina and Coastal regions got under a decent amount of rain over the weekend.
In Dubbo Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair acknowledged farmers were struggling.
Ms Berejiklian said Ms Job’s appointment as Drought Co-ordinator would see her provide information to affected communities, identify emerging risks, and coordinate drought response measures.
The Dought Co-ordinator role is not a new idea, having previously being activated during times of severe dry in NSW.
The last Drought Coordinator appointment was about five years ago, and lasted for 18 months.
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Ms Job is a senior project officer with the Department of Primary Industries on business and social resilience programs, and has been central to the Young Farmer Business Project. These programs will continue with new staff.
Ms Job said, ideally, she wouldn’t be in the Drought Co-ordinator role for long.
“If we get a break (in the weather), the minister can deactivate the role,” she said.
She said she would act as a conduit of information between farmers, communities, government, and non-government organisations, including letting farmers know exactly what support they are able to access.
“I might not meet everyone’s expectations, and I certainly can’t force anything to happen,” she said.
“But I will be going around and listening to what people are saying and bringing it back to the top table, which is something during these times... you find that people feel like they don’t have a voice”.
“Is the Premier kidding?”
NSW Labor welcomed Ms Job’s appointment but declared the government remained “behind the eight ball.”
“This hasn’t just snuck up on any one in recent weeks,” said Primary Industroes spokesman Mick Veitch.
“The Government is taking a band-aid approach - State and Federal Governments should have been more focussed on trying to future proof our primary industries sector by building on the 2013 intergovernmental agreement.
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Robert Brown straight-out lambasted the appointment.
"Is the Premier kidding? (She) went to Dubbo with news of drought relief, and despite the State being awash with cash, she's delivered nothing,” Mr Brown said.
"Farmers wanted cash, but all they got today is a well-paid public service appointment.”
The Shooters have been critical of state government’s drought support in recent months.
NSW Farmers welcomed the visits to drought affected areas by the Premier and Minister for Primary Industries, but said government’s response must go beyond Ms Job’s appointment.
“It will be critical that the NSW Government also commits to expanding the highly effective Farm Innovation Fund providing low income loans for farm improvements, ensures ongoing availability of Drought Concessional Loans, and increases the capacity of regional programs particularly for financial counselling, as well as those supporting wellbeing and good mental health,” Association Rural Affairs Committee Chair Sonia O’Keefe said.
“We also call on the NSW Government to set funding aside for a Drought Preparedness Centre of Excellence, as well as three additional Doppler radars to cover the Central West and the Western Division of the State to enhance weather forecasting and climate data gathering and analysis.”
The (dry) state of play
Since 2010 governments have moved away from ‘crisis grants’ and spruiked a strategy of preparedness and resilience, via a mix of low-interest loans, business training, counselling, and improved weather forecasting.
The 2013 Intergovernmental Agreement on National Drought Program Reform expires on June 30, with state and federal ministers understood to be in negotiations.
Meanwhile last month the NSW Government announced the Drought Transport Fund, which will provide farmers low-interest loans up to $20,000, to transport stock, fodder or water for drought-affected properties.
Government says the transport fund complements the existing $300 million NSW Drought Strategy, which includes transport subsidies, a rural resilience program, rural support workers and financial counselling, and the Farm Innovation Fund for on-farm drought preparedness.
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The state’s farmers will be encouraged to download a free app to collect and send photos, rainfall information, ground cover and soil moisture stats to ground-truth conditions for the Department of Primary Industry’s new Enhanced Drought Information System.
DPI says it’s part of a suite of new weather tools being rolled out over the next six months to iron out inconsistencies in the monitoring system, launched earlier this year.