Camels and Straws

DSC_0305There are several things I have comments on this week – all related to actions by those who govern.

The first is an Open Letter to Federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey and Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce and NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson. 

Dear Ministers,

I write on behalf of the members of the Country Women’s Association of NSW and would like to express our dismay and concern at the reported shortfall in funds for the Emergency Water Rebate Scheme.

The sheer popularity of this program, alone, should be an enormous indicator of just how great the need is in areas affected by drought, for producers to ensure their stock have access to a clean, reliable water source.

The impact of this shortfall will be far-reaching and will not only impact on the budgets of farm businesses but also struggling small businesses who supply the agricultural industry around them and who, along with their communities, were also seeing the benefits of this scheme.

The issue that concerns us most is how people will cope. Producers who have outlaid money they do not have, on a promise from government. Small business owners carrying credit they can’t afford, on a promise from government.

We have heard time and again the catch-cry at all levels of government , that they want to support viable producers to ensure they are prepared for future droughts and we now have the situation where many of those producers will have taken the steps to help ensure their future is viable, only to find a proverbial  “hole in the bucket”.  Preparedness could not predict the suddenness and severity of this drought. Watering points that have never failed in the past have done so this time. A valuable lesson learned and one that producers were acting on, in good faith, to ensure it never happened again.

A promise is a promise and we call on either the State or Federal Government to keep it.

It is imperative to ensure that, at the very least, successful applications received by 30th June 2014 be funded.

camel-216899_640My second comment also relates to a broken promise. The waiver of LLS rates to producers in drought affected areas, announced in February, which has now been reduced to 50% for 6 months. The Chairman of Local Land Services John Macarthur-Stanham on ABC rural (16/6/2014) was quoted as saying the waivers were an impost on Treasury and tax payers and that “people have also got to look at the glass as being half full, rather than being on the half empty side.” It is pretty hard to expect a positive attitude from people whose budgets are showing bracketed figures for the foreseeable future.

It’s bad enough to recognize and try to understand that there are no avenues for assistance, but to be promised help and then have that taken away, has a completely different effect on your ability to cope. It takes a very small straw……

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.

Scattered thoughts of the wee small hours….

Firefighter

Mother Nature, beautiful and amazing one minute, lethal and terrifying the next. Our thoughts are with everyone touched by this continuing disaster, particularly the fire-fighters putting themselves in harm’s way.  I don’t know how, but we have to find some way to co-exist with her.

My naive mind says the experts on nature should be able to work with the experts in innovation to provide a solution, but perhaps we are too many and too demanding and she will always find a way to remind us who is ‘the boss’. Maybe what’s important at the moment is to take note of our interactions with each other; adversity (mostly) brings out the best in people and there is a lesson to be learned about the camaraderie and sense of wellbeing after helping someone, as opposed to the empty self- absorption that material possessions provide. Looters and donation box thieves – remember “what goes around comes around”.

Many of our members are, as I write, assisting in whatever way they can, from donations of food and assistance with catering to assembling refresher packs and emergency bags for the fireies and food packs for the Remote Area Fire Fighting Teams. They’ve seen a need or been asked to help and have not hesitated to assist where they can. Perhaps Mother Nature will look kindly on the generous spirit so evident at the moment.

On a somewhat different subject, I attended the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award Dinner in Canberra last week, where Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for women – WA Senator Michaelia Cash – spoke about the Coalition’s commissioning of a white paper on agriculture.

Senator Cash said “The white paper will set out a clear and strategic way forward to promote more investment and jobs growth” and that the Coalition wanted to take steps to break the “vicious cycle” of declining rural communities through “long term and exceptionally well targeted policies”.

“If our farmers are supported to be productive and competitive there will be more jobs, there will be more investment and there will be stronger regional communities.” Minister Joyce indicated that work on the white paper had started and he encouraged participation in its development, underpinned by “discussion without any inhibitions”.

My uninhibited thoughts at 2:00am are along the lines of “long term and exceptionally well targeted policies” is code for extra long stick with medium size carrot. Production and competitiveness means producing even more with less rather than ensuring that income matches effort and keeps pace with costs.

Personally, I’m tired of being promised yet another talkfest that’s supposedly going to fix things in the bush – action speaks louder than words and if, for example, we have to wait another 15 years for the inland rail to be completed we probably won’t be worrying about bushfires; all the trees will have been used for white papers, green papers, executive summaries, submissions…..Capture

Fortunately politicking only took up a small portion of the otherwise enjoyable evening and I congratulate all the nominees but particularly the winner Giovanna Webb from The Northern Territory and runner up Isobel Knight from NSW, who during her acceptance speech reiterated her horror at discovering that more than 50% of the Company Directors course is based on teaching ethics in business.

I wonder if there’s such a course for politicians……zzzzzzzzzzzzz