THE rule of thumb is that the worst time to change drought policy is during a drought – but here we are.
It’s reportedly the driest period in 116 years and elderly farmers are telling us it’s the worst drought they can remember.
They’re telling us the current conditions are unprecedented in duration and scope.
It’s so prolonged that even the most pessimistic farmer couldn’t have prepared for it.
And it’s so widespread that not only is there no feed locally, but it’s running out in the neighbouring states, too.
This means that the cost to bring in fodder is often double or triple the cost of the product itself.
Every time we speak to a sheep or cattle farmer, we ask them what they want from the state government; what the number-one game changer would be.
“Freight subsidies”. “Freight subsidies”. “Freight subsidies”. We hear it over and over.
Some, such as Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson and National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson, say drought measures should give the most help to the most people, and the subsidies don’t meet the needs of people such as grain growers or horticulturalists.
So let’s talk about needs. Do we simply ignore one person’s needs just because the next person has different needs?
And then there’s wants. What sticks in so many craws is billions allocated to metropolitan stadiums while, over the Great Divide, livestock starve to death and a farmer suicides every few days.
Lifeline: 13 11 44
It’s not like we don’t have a cent to spare.
Politicians defending current drought measures have emphasised their focus on preparedness in all sectors. But some people on the western edges of our region have had little reprieve for more than six years. No amount of preparedness can weather that.
And what do taxpayers think? Is there a social licence to implement these subsidies?
From the conversations we’ve been having with non-farmers in our region and beyond, the answer to that falls very strongly on the “yes” side.
It’s time for the government to show its tour a couple of months ago was not just a cynical show of support, that it really has been “listening”.
Although too late for some, it’s time for freight subsidies.