A review headed by former Queensland Farmers Federation CEO Ruth Wade and former AgForce CEO Charles Burke has recommended changes to how droughts are prepared for and managed in Queensland, including putting science at the forefront of drought declarations.
The reviewers made 20 recommendations following their independent drought program review which included consultation with industry stakeholders.
The Queensland Government has accepted 13 of the recommendations and accepted in principle a further six, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said in releasing the review report today.
“To properly support communities and industry, we need science and more transparent indicators to contribute more to decisions about drought declarations, while maintaining a role for vital on-the-ground intelligence,” Mr Furner said.
“We will develop a new process that lets us keep all the best aspects of our local drought committee process but incorporates clear and publicly available scientific benchmarks to inform decisions on drought declarations.
“We expect this improved process to be in place by 2021.”
Mr Furner said the reforms would bring Queensland’s drought management processes in to line with the National Drought Agreement signed by all states and the Federal Government earlier year.
“I have personally met with farmers who are badly affected by more than six years of drought right around this state, and the Palaszczuk Government continues to stand right beside them,” Mr Furner said.
“We know the climate is changing, and our approach to supporting farmers and building their resilience needs to change as well.
“Change is tough, but we are 100 per cent committed to our agricultural industries and the families and businesses that have been doing it tough in this drought.
“That is why we have committed a further $74.6M in this year’s State Budget to continue the multi-agency Drought Assistance Package over the next four years.
“We will continue to fund financial counselling support with $1.5m over four years as part of that Budget commitment.
“The Rural Financial Counselling Service provides free financial advice to producers who are suffering financial hardship and have no alternative sources of impartial financial information.”
Key review recommendations accepted by the Palaszczuk Government include:
- A new system for Queensland drought declarations that will transition to a more objective, science-based framework by 2021;
- Continue land rent rebates, water licence waivers, drought communities program, Drought Relief from Electricity Charges, Rural Financial Counselling Service drought supplement, Tackling Regional Adversity through Integrated Care, and Rural Flying Doctor Drought Wellbeing Service;
- Future-focused drought preparedness and recovery programs;
- Support Queensland Drought and Climate Adaptation Program; and
- Explore support for Individual Business Risk Management Planning for farm businesses.
More than 60 written submissions were received and seven forums were held across regional Queensland as part of the review process.
Mr Furner said more than $670 million in assistance had been provided to producers and communities since the current drought began in 2013.
Mr Furner said the review identified issues with aspects of the current program, such as accessibility and the unwanted outcome of potentially encouraging sub optimal management practices on some droughted properties.
Ceasing fodder and water subsidies
“One recommendation is that we cease fodder and water freight subsidies and livestock freight subsidies in future droughts,” Mr Furner said.
“That will be a major transition for the livestock sector, however we will work closely with industry to reshape future programs and improve existing ones.
“We’ll do this while consulting closely with industry through the Agriculture Ministerial Advisory Committee to implement reforms.
“With about two thirds of Queensland still drought-declared, the issue is at the forefront of people’s minds.
“Now is the time to work with industry and the community to review government, industry and community actions and make improvements for future droughts.”
Changes to freight subsidies will not apply in areas that are currently drought-declared during the current drought.
AgForce ‘cautiously optimistic’ about drought review
AgForce said it was “cautiously optimistic” about the State Government’s proposed approach to better drought management policy announced by Mr Furner.
CEO Michael Guerin said drought was a natural and inevitable feature of farming in Queensland, so it was critical that the Government took a strategic approach to supporting producers in order to maintain a strong, sustainable agriculture industry.
“Overall, the program announced today is in line with AgForce’s ‘business cycle’ approach, which focuses on assisting producers to prepare for drought, as well as surviving it,” Mr Guerin said.
“However, I believe producers will be anxious about the proposal to abolish freight subsidies for fodder and water.
“While we are reassured that they will remain in place for the duration of the current drought – including any further declarations made before June 2020 – we need to ensure effective assistance for producers with the additional costs of drought.
“We will use the intervening period to engage with AgForce members and the wider industry to determine what this should look like, and seek to ensure this solution is incorporated into the final program.
“This should not be about cost-cutting but about getting better outcomes from a similar or greater investment.
“While the need to ensure animal welfare and sustainably manage the natural resource quite rightly underpins drought support, there is also an urgent need for grain growers to have more support.
“We welcome the introduction of more science into drought declarations, but insist that ‘local knowledge’ must continue to be a feature of these assessments.”
While details are yet to be worked out, AgForce acknowledged the inclusion of:
- support for practical drought management plans
- support for mental wellbeing and community resilience programs
- non-breeding livestock under the Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate
- greater support towards education costs, and
- regulatory changes to allow producers to more easily use mulga for drought feeding.
Mr Guerin said one of the most pleasing aspects of the proposed program was the Government’s commitment to engaging with industry in refining and implementing it.
“Who knows? This may be the dawn of a bright new day,” he said.
“We have seen too many recent examples of botched legislation developed in isolation of industry, and will be ardent in ensuring Minister Furner honours his commitment to including industry in finalising the program.”
Source: Qld Government, AgForce. For further information visit qld.gov.au/droughtreview or for information on current drought assistance visit daf.qld.gov.au or call 13 25 23.