AUSSIE Helpers founder Brian Egan’s frustration at news of the federal government’s drought package on Sunday morning reflected his direct and relentless involvement providing help for farmers.
“If you can call it a package, I guess it’s all very good for some people, not very good for others,” he said wearily.
“The first thing this government should have done as part of this package is declared this drought a natural disaster and give back exceptional circumstances so people can get the equivalent of the dole.”
Mr Egan, who founded Aussie Helpers 17 years ago, has now relocated his operations base from Dubbo to Gunnedah, Mr Egan is following the trail of this drought.
“Our psychologists are taking something like 60 phone calls a week from farmers suffering anxiety,” Mr Egan said on Sunday night, dog tired from another day in the field.
“It’s terrible mate, I’ve never seen anything like it.
“It’s bloody soul destroying. I took someone out from Sydney to properties today and she’s in the corporate world and she just couldn’t believe Australian farmers are being treated like they are, she was absolutely sobbing, couldn’t believe it,” said Mr Egan.
He said Aussie Helpers was currently giving away as much as $5000 a week in diesel vouchers.
He said the current state of affairs was “a terrible indictment on this government, they’ve got no idea what’s going on at all.
“We’ve got an abattoir down in the Hunter making up meat boxes and we’re buying fruit and vegetables off farmers and taking it out so people can have a bloody feed.
“This is stuff of the third world, it’s Zimbabwe all over.”
“I get lost for words, I don’t know what the answer is anymore but we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing otherwise those farmers won’t be there.
“And once the farms go, the towns go too, we won’t have a regional Australia anymore soon if we’re not careful.
“I’ve just never seen so many people in trouble, people just mentally smashed,” he said.
“Most of the calls I get start about 1am and then go through until about 4am – it simply means these people are not sleeping, they’re up all night worrying about their problems.
“This is a big-time disaster.”
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Mr Egan said he felt the government was not seeking out farmers who might be in trouble.
“Why have we got to go out and find people who don’t have any water in their tanks because it hasn’t rained for so long?
“Surely there’s people in the government paid to do that?
“Don’t they get out and visit these people? Isn’t that their job?”
He said Aussie Helpers had been pushed like never before.
“We’ve really had to come up with some out of the box ideas.
“We’re onto sugar cane farmers who are harvesting now and asking them to keep the tops and tails so we can bale it into hay.
“We’re then using molasses without the sugar in it (as a feed supplement) – it works, it saves cattle, but try and get some help with freight from government for that and they just laugh at you, we’re trucking that all the way from Mackay in Queensland.
“We’ve just taken six or eight truckloads of hay over to Gundy, near Scone, and (the people) got out there and cheered and cried, because nobody else will go there, but you’ve got about 70 farms going broke.”
He said the truck drivers had all sacrificed their weekends to get the hay there.
“We’re pulling every string we know to keep the breeding stock alive, that’s all we’re trying to keep alive, but it’s getting harder and harder.
“I don’t know who’s running the country these days, but they’ve got to declare a national disaster, otherwise our farmers won’t be there.
“And once we lose that generational expertise we’ve lost it forever because they never come back.”
He said people in the cities would come to know of this disaster very soon because of the huge hikes in food prices.
“We won’t have any food soon, 93 per cent of what we eat is grown in Australia, so where’s that going to come from?
“You’ve got no grain being grown because there’s no moisture in the soil.
“And you’ve got people who have lost all this money on sowing crops because they believed the Bureau of Meteorology when it said six months ago everyone was going to get 60 millimetres of rain right across NSW.
“Nothing happened. God knows how many millions of dollars went into diesel and seed and planting – all lost.
“That’s what really started the downturn, kicked these people in the guts and broke them.
“Not handing out freight fodder subsidies was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Mr Egan.
“They just couldn’t afford to pay up front for feed and cartage, it just broke everyone.
“I have never seen big cattle breeders asking us, a charity, for help to save their stock.
“They’re good stock, stuff they show at the Sydney Royal – they’re losing them and they’ve got to ask us for help, they’re so embarrased it’s nearly criminal.
“So we keep it as short and sweet as we can.
“They reckon the banks are crook, but there’s a lot of people in power that have seriously stuffed Australia’s agricultural system.
“I spend half my life holding people crying, and that’s wrong and it shouldn’t be happening.
“They don’t know what to do, they’ve got no-one to turn to, the National Party doesn’t care, fair dinkum, they’re a bloody disgrace and sometimes I’m ashamed at being Australian.
“While we’ve got money we’ll just keep doing it, I’ve got eight people on the ground in NSW now, four or five semi trailers on the road seven days a week and we’re giving away four road trains of hay a week.”
Mr Egan said Aussie Farmers had been given agistment properties near Grafton where “we’re sending beautiful heifers, so we’re trying to keep the farmers alive and also maintain something to sustain them if this thing ever breaks.
“Another program we’re working on is trying to make a deal with Air Liquide in Sydney to freeze embryos, semen and eggs from good cattle before they’re all knocked on the head.”
He said his charity was trying to put industry protections in place because “maybe it will rain in spring, maybe it won’t rain until next March, but when it does some people at least will have a chance at having another go”.
He said Aussie Helpers was doing no less than people expected them to do, trying to keep the beef and sheep industries alive.
“It’s a labour of love mate,” he said.
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