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.