This record drought is a natural disaster

Opinion: This record drought is a natural disaster


Opinion
Mal Peters says farmers have found themselves trying to manage a drought no farmer has ever experienced in Australia before.

Mal Peters says farmers have found themselves trying to manage a drought no farmer has ever experienced in Australia before.

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I have never observed the level of extreme concern and anxiety farming families are feeling during this event.

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The Morrison government and the Nationals would be wise to start heeding the cries for help from those parts of Queensland and northern NSW that are now affected by "beyond records" drought.

Many well prepared and resilient farmers are now beyond their drought risk management strategies and the long-term impact on them and rural communities will be unprecedented.

I have a long history interacting with farmers in my previous roles.

I have never observed the level of extreme concern and anxiety farming families are feeling during this event, particularly when they had made plans based on known previous droughts.

Now they find themselves trying to manage something no farmer has ever experienced in Australia before.

The National Drought Agreement is very clear with its intent in "recognising governments need to support farm business and farm communities to manage and prepare for climate change and variability".

It goes on to say "the new agreement focuses measures across all jurisdictions on bolstering risk management practice and enhancing long-term preparedness and resilience".

Mr Morrison should be under no illusion a situation has been reached in those "beyond records" farms that have no precedent.

Farmers now going into their third year of drought in safe rainfall areas and four and five years in western areas.

I know from firsthand experience how debilitating the drought is even for people who have taken strategic decisions to prepare for a normal drought, when it goes on and on and no end is in sight.

I have been on a number of different farms over the last few weeks and good farmers who always prepare themselves for drought are now at the end of their tether.

They are not sure which way to go with failed winter crops, stock rapidly losing condition and in many instances they are running out of water.

The NSW government has stepped up to the plate with a number of assistance measures.

But the federal government is missing in action, relying instead on Farm Management Deposits, the Farm Household Allowance and Regional Investment Corporation loans - all of which very few farmers can access.

Those who have off-farm income are battling, but those without are in desperate straights.

The Morrison government demonstrated they can act in critical times, as they did during the Queensland floods, but now we have a disaster beyond any records in some parts of northern NSW and southern Queensland of equal devastation, that requires urgent action by the prime minister.

If action is not forthcoming, some rural communities and farm business may not recover.

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