No punches pulled on tablelands tour

STATE Agriculture Minister Katrina Hodgkinson comes to Tamworth on her land services tour today and will get a fairly hot reception – even apart from the 39-degree forecast – as the region reels further from the double whammy of the sustained heatwave and next to no rain for months. 

Ms Hodgkinson was left in no uncertain terms about the severity of the drought yesterday when she talked to farmers on the tablelands.

She was given a blunt introduction to the realities of life on the land – and she can expect more today when she visits Tamworth and Gunnedah ahead of what farmers expect and demand – and will tell her again.

She will field calls for an immediate – and in some cases backdated – drought package that will deliver them access to subsidies for fodder and transport and low-interest loans.

It is understood Ms Hodgkinson has told political colleagues that a drought package for this region has been prepared and is before Cabinet.

The stumbling block, according to observers, has been Treasurer Mike Baird and some other ministers resisting it on financial grounds – because it hasn’t been included in budgetary items so far.

But Ms Hodgkinson has told media she expects some “good news” and “soon”.

Local MPs, including Adam Marshall, who showed her around Bundarra and Inverell, hope the stark stories like those she heard yesterday will inspire her to push the politicians to act now.

“The farmers the minister spoke to didn’t pull any punches with what they told her,” Mr Marshall said late yesterday.

“I think she was blown away. I think she now has a very real and stark picture of where we are at here.

“Our farmers told her that we have had less than one-third of our normal average rainfall over the last six to seven months. That’s what we heard and that’s from some who have been farming for 40 or 50 years. They have never seen it so bad. That’s the difference. We rely almost entirely on summer rainfall and we haven’t had it.”

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