Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken his drought “listening tour” through New South Wales and Queensland, visiting Dubbo, Trangie, Narromine, Blackall and heading to Charleville, and Boulia on a three-day tour with senior members of his cabinet.
In rural New South Wales Mr Turnbull, who is drought feeding stock on his own cattle property in the Hunter Valley, said it was important for the Government to hear firsthand how farmers and rural businesses were travelling in a drought that is affecting large parts of Eastern Australia.
Good morning from Blackall in Queensland. pic.twitter.com/ftzYL5voDS
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) June 5, 2018
“If we want to have the great food and fibre that we need, we’ve got to support our farmers,” he said.
“And we’ve got to understand that they’re dealing with rainfall that appears to be much more volatile, and of course, the cost of maintaining livestock, as everyone knows here, during dry times, is enormous.”
Mr Turnbull said issues raised included things the Government could do to make it easier for people to freight fodder from interstate, and for drought-affected farmers to access the types of support provided – ‘which often, you have to face pretty daunting piles of paperwork to fill in. I think everyone here understands that.”
He said the focus had to be on doing “everything that can be done to ensure farmers are resilient”.
“Because the reality that you face is that rainfall is very – has always been variable in Australia, it appears to be getting more variable, certainly in this part of the world, and back where Luce and I are in the Hunter. And how do you manage that, do you run fewer stock? Some people I was talking to yesterday in the Hunter were talking about that, but of course if you have fewer stock, you have lower income. That’s a challenge.
“Are we providing enough incentives for people to store grain and hay and make silage, and so forth so that you’ve got something to back you up, but of course, then if you have a 7-year drought, or you have years of drought, no one is really going to be able to store enough hay to cover that.”
Mr Turnbull said the aim of the three-day tour was to listen and learn from farmers and then “to make sure we provide the support we can”.
Mr Turnbull said agriculture was the “ultimate renewable industry of Australia”.
“We have the most enormous markets that are available to us in our region, growing at an extraordinary pace,” he said.
“There’s never been greater opportunities for Australian agriculture. Our free trade agreements have opened up one big market after another, and there’s a lot more to come.
“So it’s vital that we put ourselves in a position where we support agriculture and we enable our farmers to produce more food and fibre, recognising though, that we are living in the land of droughts and flooding rains.
“You know, this is a dry continent; it’s a continent of great climate variability.
“So we have to make sure we do everything we can to use all of the science that’s available and all of the research and intelligence we can bring to bear to farm more sustainability, more resiliently and ensure that we support the men and women that put the food on the table and that put the fibre on our backs and above all, again as I say, are undertaking the ultimate long term renewable industry, delivering the food and fibre that Australians need, and of course the world needs.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said politicians couldn’t make it rain but were travelling through drought affected regions to listen and to learn and do whatever could be done to ease the burden of drought.
“People need our farmers, and they are the very best as Malcolm Turnbull has just indicated. People need our farmers three times a day, every day. There’s many other occupations where people don’t quite need them that readily, on a daily basis, but we need our farmers three times a day, every day.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has farmers in his electorate of Maranoa in South Western Queensland who are enduring a seventh successive year of dry times.
He said the Government had put over $1 billion on the table to not only help farmers but small businesses and regional communities affected by drought as well.
“We’ve put on concessional loans, also farm household assistance. 7,900 families have taken that up. 2,400 of those have taken it up until the end period of three years.
“And of those, 85 per cent have come off it and said that it has been a positive experience because it’s not just putting money in their pockets to be able to buy the bread and butter for the family. They’re assigned to a case worker to help them build resilience and restructure their business to help them get through the drought and go into the next one.
“We have looked proactively in building that resilience piece.
“We have looked into pest and weeds. Over $25 million into pests and weeds, so we can build the resilience so that when it does rain, they get greater productivity, greater production.
“And also In terms of the communities. We’ve given money to local governments to be able to go and do up the local hall, to build up the sports ground, but using local contractors, using local businesses to do that. So we’ve been pragmatic.”
Mt Turnbull said most farmers he spoke to believed the country was getting hotter and drier.
“We’ve got to recognise we’ve got in this wide brown land of droughts and flooding rains, we have to be resilient and we have to recognise the nature of the climate we face and make sure that we’ve got all of the tools, both from government and in terms of animal husbandry or in agricultural practices to deal with it.”
Mr Littleproud said the last council meeting of Agricultural Ministers from each State agreed to put investment into helping farmers transition into changing climatic environment.
“So the Government was able to bring the states together on the journey, and we’re also doing that through our research development corporations.
“We’re spending over $300 odd million a year putting that into research development corporations to make sure that they’re making that investment into the new cutting edge technology that we need to understand, we’ll be impacted by changing climate.”
Asked by a journalist why there was not more research into natural sequence and holistic farming methods such as those championed by Peter Andrews, Mr Turnbull said he was well familiar with Mr Andrews’ work and the proposition of working to move water more slowly across the landscape to create soil moisture.
“The problem is that when you get into periods of such a long drought, all the best – your best practices can make you a bit more resilient but you’re still going to be faced with periods where there is literally no grass.
“There’s nothing for your stock to eat and the soil moisture is receded so deep into the ground you’re not in the position to put a crop in.”