Farming families are on their knees, stock are hungry, mental health is a grave concern and a NSW farming expert says the state government is hiding behind smoke and mirrors, looking as though they are doing something when really they are doing nothing.
NSW Farmers Association Rural Affairs Committee chair Sonia O’Keefe said the government’s appointment of a state drought coordinator last week – to be the eyes and ears on the ground and feed information back to the government to ensure it was providing the right support at the right time – was another level of bureaucratic window dressing.
She said the government’s Regional Assistance and Advisory Committee (RAAC), which she has been part of for three years, had been fulfilling that role since it was set up in 2013.
The committee has been meeting more frequently to stay informed about the unfolding drought across NSW – and passing on its feedback to NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair.
It wasn’t told the government was going to appoint a drought coordinator, Ms O’Keefe said.
This drought coordinator is now doing what the RAAC committee is supposed to do,she said
“The RAAC committee is made up of a cross section of people; the NSW Farmers representative, there are two people who are farmers on it, some community representatives, banking representatives, and the rest are government representatives.
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“Theoretically it is supposed to advise the minister of what’s happening in rural areas when there are adverse conditions. In reality it gets very political and politicians get a lot of pressure placed on them and they don’t pay much attention to what we say, or ask us what we think.
“There’s no indication that the voice from RAAC is being heard.”
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When the Mercury put questions to Mr Blair about the role duplication he passed them onto the NSW Department of Primary Industries which said the committee chair (Andrew Locke) “has already asked the NSW drought coordinator to attend some or all of its meetings to ensure that there is no duplication".
This new role is about making sure that government, farmers and communities are working together as best as they can while they get through this difficult period,NSW Department of Primary Industries spokesman
“[Former National Rural Woman of the Year and respected agriculture leader] Pip Job will be the NSW Government’s eyes and ears on the ground, making sure farmers are receiving the right support at the right time.
“The role of the Regional Assistance Advisory Committee (RAAC) is to provide advice to the minister on seasonal conditions and potential assistance measures.”
Ms O’Keefe said the government should be drawing upon the ‘on the ground’ information its own departments were collecting.
We have the Local Land Services across NSW – they have so much coordination within them, we also have our Rural Resilience officers within the Department of Primary Industries and that’s what their role is; to be that coordinator and provide all of that support and information to everybody in adverse conditions,she said.
“Alongside that there is an intergovernmental agency working group which is made up of all of the government departments so that information can get to them quickly.
“We already have all of these things in place, why do we also now have a drought coordinator?
“We are just reinventing the wheel again.”
Ms O’Keefe said the government could also consult industry bodies if it wanted more information.
“We also have a NSW Farmers Association – is their voice being heard? We have industry bodies, we have local government – are their voices being heard?”