How we can help Aussie farmers now and in the future

How we can help Aussie farmers now and in the future

by James Doogue

30 July, 2018


Tonight Channel 7 news in Perth ran an item on the farmers in the Eastern States dealing with 18 months of drought — the stock losses, the shortage of feed, the financial distress etc. Aussie Helpers was credited with rescuing one farmer from suicide.

They interviewed an Aussie Helpers person, but I just got the impression that the organization provide comfort, advice and hampers. But they are much more than that as the farmers’ testimonials at the Aussie Helpers website attests.

The kind of assistance Aussie Helpers are thanked for include stock feed, a generator to run a bore for water, groceries, and staples like toilet paper, footwear, or pamper packs — and also moral support, letting farmers know there are people out there who care.

At the end of the news segment there were two phone numbers flashed up on the screen, as the news reader said “Let’s hope help comes for them soon” or something equally inane.

I railed at my wife, complaining that there was nothing in the news item telling viewers how we might help farmers. Yet whenever we have bushfires, and despite the fact that people should have home insurance, there are charities waiting to take our money, and our Governments allocate cash grants and the like.

If someone has a medical condition and the news covers it, there will often be a GoFundMe site promoted. I just thought our News channel should have done something more for farmers in distress.

I know every business has its risks. Weather and climate are a big risk for farmers. I don’t support taxpayer’s funds being used to prop up continually marginal farmers, just as I wouldn’t support taxpayers funding marginal retailers, or financial institutions, or the car industry. But, I do think we have a moral obligation to help our fellow Australians in immediate need. So I have made a donation to Aussie Helpers, which you can do here.

There could be no more immediate need than this for farmers. This Bureau of Meteorology map shows the many areas of severe and record rainfall deficiency over 15 months to 30 June 2018.

Looking at the map provided by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, we can see that currently 52% of the state is currently suffering Drought or Intense Drought. A further 48% is drought affected land. Just 0.2% of the state is designated either non-drought or ‘recovering’ from drought. Of course the drought conditions in Australia’s Eastern States extends well into Western Queensland as well.

Immediate, and basic assistance is needed by farmers now. Aussie Helpers should make it a condition of talking to the media that they tell the public how they can make donations, and put up their number and website at least as prominently as the Lifeline number. The news certainly had plenty of time to feature starving and dead farm stock during the report.

As mentioned above, I don’t support taxpayers subsidies and grants supporting marginal businesses. They should be allowed to fail, be bought out, merged or closed. There are some very salient points made about drought policy in an article at The Australian Farm Institute website way back in 2014. The author observed that some areas then in drought had been in drought-like conditions for half of the past two decades. Farmers must take that into account when developing their business plans. If they can’t, they need to get out of the business.

It isn’t hard to match up the areas of regular drought in NSW and Queensland, as pointed out in the 2014 article, and today’s drought affected areas. But nothing substantive has changed in Government policy to address drought policy in the long term.

While the Government should not continue to support any failing business, it does have a responsibility to take strategic action which would help farmers and have long term benefits to the wider community.

Some suggestions:

1. Build dams for flood mitigation, drought proofing, power generation where possible, and take excess rainfall to top directly top up the aquifers. Damn the Greenies who may want to protect the local population of a slightly different shade of frog; or the local Aboriginal people who are stirred up to protect some mythological creature absolutely no one really believes in unless such a belief gives them some power over others. We are talking about national security issues here.

Imagine if we had spent the $10 billion or so that was spent on mothballed desalination plants building flood mitigation and drought proofing for a farming areas instead.

2. Governments should have plans and infrastructure in place to aid farmers in severe drought, just like they have plans in place in the event of another stock market or financial crisis, or natural disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones, floods and so on.

We know we need to get feed and supplies to farmers. What would be wrong with the defence forces coordinating that?

Farmers and suppliers and the public could be directed to drop off donations of feed, equipment, supplies etc, to locations around the country. Farmer associations, and charities such as Aussie Helpers, can vet requests from farmers and provide the defence forces with priorities.

The defence forces could drop feed by air direct to cattle and sheep, and they can ferry feed, equipment and supplies to farmers via choppers, train and trucks.

Transport companies and driver’s could volunteer their support. I’m sure there is a lot which could be done.

3. The Government should have developed decades ago, strategic plans to protect and develop Australia’s food resources. Tony Abbott was mocked by some for his proposal in 2015 for a strategy to open up and develop Australia’s north — with a network of dams.

We have plenty of rainfall delivery in the tropical North and plenty of land. It is up to the Government to harness those resources for all Australians. If that meant developing infrastructure and even offering marginal farmers a land swap deal, then Australia could benefit.

Regional populations could expand with jobs, taking the pressure off our capital cities. Aboriginal Australians would have the opportunity to stay on country working, rather than have to move to the city for a job or face a life of welfare.

If political parties refuse to address strategic farming issues, don’t vote for them. If we have political parties who have some MP’s who support these type of proposals, then vote for those individuals and not their inner city vote focused colleagues.

Protecting and developing Australian food security needs to become a federal election issue.