Drought support, charity re-think needed

Rural Aid situation a symptom of bigger issues around drought support


Opinion
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With each and every farmer in a different situation based on their business, location and skill-set, could it be that the government drought strategy needs to identify where more direct, on-the-ground support is needed longer term?

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The problems around drought charities, in particular as more details of the investigation into Rural Aid come to light, demonstrates the need for a different model in this space.

The rise of drought charities also highlights the shortcomings of governments over a period time.

As state and federal governments have tried to withdraw from drought support, and instead focus on encouraging preparedness and self reliance, it has done so in a way that has created a need/opportunity for these charities to step in.

A lot of farmers would agree a shift needs to continue away from the old response of subsidies and hand-outs, but the current attempt lacks planning, funding and understanding. 

Related reading: Rural Aid drought charity focus of investigation

This year tested the equality of drought support, be it who’s eligible, the industries that could (or couldn’t) apply (including small business), or instances where those who had been eligible for Farm Household Allowance support have later had to pay it back despite still being in hardship, as seen in the dairy industry.

And then there’s all the paperwork which has also made it hard for many to access support.

When times get tough, it’s great to see that people in our cities do care and want to provide some help, but they need to be able to do so through an avenue with transparency and accountability.

That money also needs to be used in a way that doesn’t distort markets, such as with hay, where producers who are in a position to buy their own fodder don’t find themselves priced out the market.

So we currently have a situation where large amounts of money are going into charities with little transparency, while on the government side, support access is hindered by red tape and the policies have struggled to transition away from subsidies.

There is a need to adopt a more accountable approach, where instead of dollars coming from the public via charities, a more strategic structure exists which also engages more directly with farmers on the ground.

If financial support is needed, as seen this year, it also needs to be more organised and accessible and its use could be a feedback mechanism of where more on-ground (preparedness/training) support is also needed longer term.​

  • Also see “Drought reform: expect Delays” in next week’s edition, as our national writers look at drought policy progress.
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