North Western NSW Drought: Too Little, Too Late?

As fires rage in the east, a different kind of natural disaster is taking place in the west of the state, it’s slow and destructive, and it’s taken 18 months to get the state government’s attention.
Nanjing Night Net

North-western NSW’s drought-stricken farmers were relieved to find the Regional Assistance Advisory Committee (RAAC) finally stepping on their cracked, dry soil last week as representatives came out to see the conditions in Coonamble, Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Weilmoringle and Bourke.

But the question on many lips was is it too little, too late?

NSW Farmers’ Association (NSWFA) president Fiona Simson believes the state government has to act, now.

“Our members are running out of feed, running out of water and they have loan commitments,” she said.

“Meanwhile the minister seems unwilling to even say the word drought.”

Some locals are pleased there is finally acknowledgment but they are worried the government is thinking long-term, whereas they need urgent assistance.

“At the RAAC meeting they acknowledged they need to move early,” Brewarrina producer Ed Fessey said.

“(But) we need interim measures like freight subsidies, freight stock subsidies backdated until July. We need previous extraordinary circumstances subsidies, only methods that worked, they left NSW in relatively good measure after the last drought.”

Early last month Mr Fessey wrote to his local member Kevin Humphries, State Minister for Mental Health, outlining the region’s hardships.

“They have neglected areas out here, some of the local members don’t even want to know about it. I wrote to Kevin Humphries in early September and it was swept under the rug,” he said.

Mr Humphries acknowledged the ‘dry spell’ in the north-west early last week.

RAAC executive officer John Newcombe can’t say exactly what the next move is but he is keen to get the information back to the Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson.

“It went well, we got a lot of feedback, a lot of information, what support is needed, what the conditions are like and the impact of floods, then drought. We’re going to take this information back to the minister, there is an interest from the minister to do something,” he said.

Ms Simson isn’t convinced the RAAC meetings are going to be enough.

“The easiest and best idea would be to reinstate the measures from before such as subsidies on feed and transport and low interest rates,” she said.

“The committee has no power at all. It’s going to be more of the same.”

Ms Simson said this natural disaster should be given the same attention as fire and flood.

“Drought is a natural disaster like fire and flood, but you can’t insure against it,” she said.

“Preparedness is good, but we’re past that now, we need policies on taxation, depreciation and bigger fodder storages, these are not there.”

Mr Fessey believes while it is a natural disaster the government is not going to admit that.

“How do you get them to declare a disaster area when you can’t even get them to say drought,” he said.

Mr Fessey would like to see a pliable policy that can be adapted to all types of situations.

“There needs to be an interim process. We need a robust drought policy for the near future,” he said.

“And I’d just like to see the minister on the ground.”

Ms Simson agrees.”From what I’ve heard most people would like the government to recognise they’re in drought,” she said. “Both the state and federal governments need to support this like they do so many other industries.”

The RAAC visited the North Western region to see how serious conditions were Photo: GRACE RYAN

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