Alan Jones and Barnaby Joyce discuss drought at Mullaley drought breakfast

Mullaley has become the focal point of a call for Malcolm Turnbull to declare the drought a national disaster.

Radio broadcaster Alan Jones aired his morning show from the Mullaley Memorial Hall on Friday morning, with hundreds gathering from nearby farms and communities.

“This has reached the point where it has to be declared a natural and national disaster,” Jones said.

“We need someone in government to declare it a national disaster. That person is Malcolm Turnbull.”

Barnaby Joyce and Alan Jones on the air in Mullaley.

Jones also interviewed New England MP Barnaby Joyce, who said he would “keep driving and driving until we get the response we need”.

“It is the number-one issue – drought and power prices,” he said.

“It’s a one-in-100-year event. It is a natural disaster. What else do you need to happen?

“It’s not something that can just be dealt with as one-policy announcement.”

Mr Joyce called for a sit-down in a rural area between government officials including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and premiers Gladys Berejiklian, Annastacia Palaszczuk and Dan Andrews.

“Say: ‘We’re not going to leave this room until we have a plan across all levels of government’,” Mr Joyce said.

DESOLATE: The only sustenance for these cattle near Mullaley is hay, which is becoming harder to source as the drought drags on. Photo: Vanessa Höhnke

DESOLATE: The only sustenance for these cattle near Mullaley is hay, which is becoming harder to source as the drought drags on. Photo: Vanessa Höhnke

Parkes MP Mark Coulton said he thought the drought breakfast was a worthwhile event, but defended the government against Jones’s claims that Australia has a “leadership vacuum”.

“Apart from making a political statement, [Jones] never made one practical suggestion of what we might do,” Mr Coulton said.

“We are changing as this drought continues to evolve and bite.

“There are a lot of challenges ahead of us.”

Gunnedah deputy mayor Gae Swain echoed his sentiments and said the community needed to continue to support and encourage one another.

“We’ve been through tough times, and we will again,” she said.

“The important thing is that people know they’re not on their own.”

Gunnedah mayor Jamie Chaffey said “there definitely is hope”.

“These people are strong,” he said.

“So many people talk about how tough they’re doing it, but they always say there are people doing it tougher than them and they’re checking on their neighbours.

“That’s when you know the strength of your community – when you’re in situations like drought.”

What the farmers say

Max Gavel

A retired farmer, Max Gavel came to Mullaley in 1935. He and his son Andrew manage a farm with cropping and 500 head of breeding cattle, and are buying feed to sustain their stock.

Max said he attended the event “to see if there are any answers to [the drought]”.

Janet Bishop

Janet Bishop has been on a farm in Mullaley since the early 1950s. She is widowed and the running of the farm is carried out by her son James. They run cattle and sheep.

“We’re in dire straits,” she said.

“I’ve been here 66 years and never have we seen such a disaster.”

Angela Martin

Angela Martin and her husband have been on a farm in Mullaley for 19 years and do “rain-fed cropping”.

“It is our primary source of income,” she said.

The Martins were unable to plant winter crops this year, with about 450 hectares normally sewn with canola and wheat. They are looking to summer crops now, but may not be able to plant in spring if the soil moisture profile is too low.

“I’m used to the idea of drought [but] it’s the long-term outlook I’m concerned about,” she said.

“Is this winter rainfall deficit the new norm?”

Mrs Martin had always hoped their children would take over from them, but now she was uncertain of their future.

“I feel like I am losing hope,” she said.

“I feel that the dream of a family farm should exist, and a community is formed when you have lots of farming families working side-by-side.”

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