Thoughts From the Road


Well, hello again and a big thank you to Lyn for being my guest blogger last week. I’m thinking that when I “retire” from my current position I’ll go in search of a derelict vehicle and swap the soapbox for a sh*tbox!! (Spell check is not happy!)

Since I last wrote Bourke has received a bit more rain (note to self; invite PM to come to Rowena) and the Federal Government released its drought assistance measures which was pleasing to see and will help some in the short term. I remain concerned about those who rely on agriculture but who are not farmers and the long term consequences of an even greater population drift as a result of employees having to be laid off. A wage subsidy would have benefitted whole communities more and it will be interesting to see how the banks respond into the future when refinancing approaches are made. However, it is a good start and well done to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce for going in to bat for battlers.

I watched Alex Cullen’s excellent story, “Drought; the last straw” on Sunday night and couldn’t help shedding a tear or two for my own boys, at home with Jeff and experiencing their own “baptism of fire” into farming life.

Last week I toured the Branches in our Blue Mountains Group of CWA of NSW and met the members on their own turf, so to speak. It is always enlightening to meet and talk to those members who, for various reasons, cannot attend AGM’s, schools/seminars, or commit to time away from home by volunteering to be on a state committee, but who quietly achieve good things for the benefit of their communities and the perception of CWA. This week I am visiting the Far South Coast members and look forward to hearing their stories and perspectives because a president cannot represent effectively if she (he) does not know the people for whom they advocate. Besides that, those always manning stockvault-milk135412the kitchen sink are often the ones who know exactly what’s going on! (and at dinner last night it was actually a man!!!)

Next week will see the annual Agricultural and Environment seminar at Potts Point and I hope to catch up with some members whilst they are here increasing their knowledge about “What milk is in your fridge” before finally wending my way home to reaquaint myself with the family and survey the damage from the dust and wind storm Rowena received whilst the rain fell at Bourke.

Road Trip….Anyone?

farm field

I spent this last weekend in Walgett and Lightning Ridge, listening to and meeting with Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, his staff, Brent Finlay (NFF), Fiona Simson (NSWFA), landholders, small business owners, local government representatives, LLS personnel and concerned community members. Every person at those meetings wanted to find a solution to the current crisis besetting agriculture in ever-increasing areas of Australia.

Much of the discussion has been reported in all sorts of media so there is no need for me to repeat that, but what has not been overly evident in these reports was the support of and assistance requests for, small business operators who also rely on the weather for their income; contractors and other small operators who rely on a functioning agricultural sector to maintain their enterprises.

Also discussed was the loss of reliable staff, who have already or are about to, lose their jobs as businesses (in and out of town) cut back on expenses. Most of these people will leave town to find other employment and once gone, they will never return. Various workable and achievable suggestions were put forward e.g. a return of the Regional Employment and Development Scheme (The RED Scheme).

News reports appearing now concerning the Federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey’s response, are not looking positive for Barnaby’s approach to Cabinet on our behalf and comparisons with the SPC debate only serve to imply that farmers also have multi-million dollar backing. The statistics for agriculture are that debt has increased exponentially, not profit. My workplace agreement doesn’t include leave, let alone leave loading.

Mr. Hockey is quoted as saying “We’re all very aware of what’s happening in regional and rural Australia…” With all due respect sir, you do not. From personal experience, when you are removed from the situation it does not have the same impact on your psyche. You have not seen the suffering or felt the reality nor have you met with the human face of what is “happening in regional and rural Australia”.

I invite you and your colleagues to do just that. Come “out here” and meet the people you are suggesting should get off the merry-go-round, to shape up or ship out. Come and listen to the measures that land managers put in place to prepare for this drought. Come and tell them what you believe to be an acceptable level of preparedness. Leave your air-conditioned office and come and tell us in person about the “swings and roundabouts” of the Australian climate.

The Federal Government defines Exceptional Circumstances as “rare and severe events outside those a farmer could normally be expected to manage using responsible farm management strategies. Specifically, they are events that occur on average once every 20 to 25 years and have an impact on income for a prolonged period (greater than 12 months).”

This drought has surpassed any on record, in many areas, let alone the 20 to 25 year average and “greater than 12 months” is a dim memory.

Politics is a numbers game and this debate in Cabinet will be no different. So if you are wondering what you can do to help, I have a suggestion; put pen to paper, fingers on the keyboard or dial a number on your phone and call any politician whose contact details you can find.

Then make sure every person you know does the same.

Blueprint for a conversation – by Guest Blogger, Joy Beames, State Agricultural and Environmental Officer

The view from my porch

Wine and conversation on our verandah

Attending a recent National Farmers Federation forum and workshop titled “Blueprint for Australian Agriculture” in Canberra recently I travelled through dry country for most of the way and came through some areas that had received a storm. It seemed like the storms followed the hills around in several areas making quite a contrasting green and brown patchwork pattern.

The forum was a very interesting process with participants breaking up into groups to try and get ideas happening to progress Australian agriculture and “Brand Australia”. The agenda arrived a few days before the event and I was a little puzzled about the world café process that was to be used. It is, according to the agenda document, an ongoing conversation that deepens at each round. People scatter to different tables after each conversation, giving the opportunity to share ideas with others and to meet the stated need for peer groups to mingle. The process works with guiding questions at each table encouraging people to think about what is already working well and how more might be done.

I was obviously one of the dumb ones in the room as I thought that I was to move from one themed group to the next so I began with Natural Resources. However that was not the way it worked at all. Each participant had to select a themed group and then rotate tables in that sector only. I had intended to be in the ‘Agriculture within Society’ but that was not to be. It was however a very interesting and productive exercise. What was interesting is that many of the participants were salary or wage earners who don’t have to rely on the weather and produce markets to earn their income. There were people there from several government departments and private sector companies e.g. chemicals, banking etc. They are all part of the agricultural scene certainly but sometimes their understanding of some of the challenges faced by the farming community was not evident. What was also evident is that they were not responsible for paying their way to attend these forums as they are quite happy to travel all over the country to attend numerous follow up workshops.

The big word used in the natural resources sector was sustainability. We all know that we have to be sustainable or we don’t survive but there are times when implementing strategies to improve our natural resources is not able to be the top priority. Sitting on our front veranda at night with my husband Ken, sharing a glass of wine and conversation, it has become evident in the past few weeks the stock feed has been visibly diminishing and the grain trails that have been laid are very obvious as the stock continually graze those areas. Our top priority at the moment is keeping the sheep alive by supplementing their feed and keeping the water supply available for them. Once we get some good rain and pasture growth then we can think about improving our natural resource base.

All in all the whole exercise was very worthwhile and I believe that it can only be of benefit to Australian agriculture. Well done to the NFF for highlighting the issues.