PM's adviser hears Toowoomba's drought pains

TOOWOOMBA region farmers have had to reconsider which schools they send their kids to because of the drought's impacts.

That was one of many impacts of the drought Toowoomba and southwest Queensland farmers mentioned to Joint Agency Drought Taskforce coordinator general Major General Stephen Day yesterday.

"(Farmers said) they had a number of issues they felt were important for us to understand," Maj-Gen Day said.

"It's having an impact on people's mental health. Some families are doing it very tough in that regard.

"They wanted me to know the cost of feed is going up, for chickens, pork producers, livestock. For those who rely on rain to produce a grain crop, they haven't had any income for a while."

Coordinator General of the Joint Agency Drought Taskforce, Major General Stephen Day. September 2018
Coordinator General of the Joint Agency Drought Taskforce, Major General Stephen Day. September 2018 Bev Lacey

Maj-Gen Day said Mayor Paul Antonio raised the issue of education.

"Some folks who send their children to boarding schools, because income has dropped, they have to wrestle a bit with whether they can afford to have their kids there," he said.

"Some don't have a choice because of how remote they are, as high schools aren't readily available for their kids."

Maj-Gen Day served in the Australian Army as an officer in Angola, on the border with Namibia, in East Timor as one of now-Governor General Peter Cosgrove's commanding officers, as the director of strategic operations in the Iraq War and the chief of plans for NATO in the Afghanistan War.

"The Prime Minister has tasked me to improve the coordination of drought relief across our country for the drought as it is," he said.

"He wants us to have a look at developing a strategy for long term drought resilience for our country. The approach I'm taking is I'm going to listen, then I'm going to plan and then I'm going to act. I'm going to be very careful in not getting that order mixed up."

He said there were several things every-day Australians could do if they wanted to help farmers and communities impacted by the drought.

"For the folks on the seaboard, we should encourage them to travel inland and see what is happening in inland cities like Toowoomba, spend a weekend here, enjoy the restaurants and say g'day to the folks," he said.

"For those who are into giving (to) charities, what is needed is to keep economic activity alive in the communities. The best way to do that is with money or vouchers which can be spent then by the community."

 

Coordinator General of the Joint Agency Drought Taskforce, Major General Stephen Day. September 2018
Coordinator General of the Joint Agency Drought Taskforce, Major General Stephen Day. September 2018 Bev Lacey

He said while for some this was the worst drought they had experienced, other farmers were still doing okay.

"I think it's important to understand the effects of the drought are uneven. It varies from farm to farm, region to region, state to state," he said.

"Some people are doing okay.

"When you look across our wonderful nation, the primary industry is okay. One of the other messages I'm getting is the narrative here needs to be balanced. It's not all problematic. It is seriously problematic for some people and that can never be understated. But there are some doing okay as well."

Maj-Gen Day said farmers should not lose hope in these tough times.

"Hope is vital," he said.

"There are no farmers more efficient than Australian farmers. There are no farmers who are more inventive than Australian farmers. There are no farmers more resilient. It's because of our farmers we eat the finest produce anyone in the world can eat. It's because of our farmers we have a $65 billion industry, a lot of it goes overseas and brings in money for our country.

"It is going to rain, one day it is going to rain.

"The challenge for all of us is to work together so when that day comes, and it will come, that our communities are still in good enough order so they can prosper and enjoy those good times again."



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