Queensland Country Life Op-Ed – “Partyroom listens to drought SOS”

16 April 2015

A few weeks ago I stood before my colleagues in the Coalition joint party-room in Canberra and tried to find the right words to explain the struggle facing much of Western Queensland and northern NSW.

Whilst I cannot discuss what is said in the joint party room, I can say that for some time now I have been telling my colleagues that a drought is a natural disaster just like a flood or cyclone. But it doesn’t get the same level of media coverage despite being a much longer battle with often much wider impacts.

I said there is still an artificial oversupply in the cattle market due to the drought conditions, with graziers continuing to make the difficult decision to place excess breeding stock into the slaughter market and even the live export market.

I told my colleagues that economic depression had crept into the bush towns, with school numbers falling, shops closing and local council work stagnating.

While I support the Federal Government taking this action, I said when there is a cyclone that hurls through the Solomon Islands, we immediately send money to assistance in reconstruction.

But I also believe when Australians are confronted with drought, we need to constantly review our assistance measures to ensure we are attempting to steer any help to the people who need it, in the most effective manner.

I must admit, I was not unhappy with the response from the joint-party room, which is generally a tough crowd.

I have been contacted by several colleagues since my address who have wanted to know more about this drought.

In the weeks since my party room address, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has driven a plan for a new drought economic stimulus package directed at those businesses allied to this sector.

While the precise projects assistance and funding allocation is still being finalised, I can confirm that I have been working closely with Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and local governments across the state to determine how we can make this package most effective.

It is important we provide assistance to keep services alive in drought-beleaguered towns.  We need economic stimulus for the hardware store, petrol station and road crew to keep the people in town so there are still school and health services when this drought finally ends.

As we approach the budget period there is already news that further falls in commodity prices, especially iron ore, will again weaken our national fiscal outlook.

But this only strengthens my resolve to getting better public policy outcomes for our agriculture sector.

Whether it is wheat, beef or sugar, our agricultural exports not only provide vital employment and build wealth in rural and regional areas, they also contribute significant tax revenue to our Federal Government coffers.

With the mining boom dissipating, we need strong and steady sectors, such as agriculture, to be profitable to ensure we maintain our living standards.

And I will not take a backward step from this along the Canberra hallways.