Queensland Premier Campbell Newman went to Longreach this week to look at the drought situation. He took Agriculture Minister John McVeigh with him and together they announced a further $22 million of Drought Relief Assistance, land rental rebates and support services (such as counselling) for drought-declared areas. Longreach and Barcaldine council areas were added to a list that now includes 26 affected areas and shires. Mr Newman said:
If this [drought] continues, if these funds aren't enough, the Government will be more forthcoming with more assistance down the track. The ultimate thing we all want is, of course, we'd love the weather to change. We'd love to see the black clouds build up and get a proper wet season. Let's pray that happens and we don't see another 12 months like this.
The mayor of Barcaldine, Rob Chandler, described just how tough it is for some graziers in the state's far west who received as little as 50 mm of rain last year and have little or no grass cover:
The stock are hanging on water. They are not out and about as they should be. They are really just hanging on the molasses trough and hanging on the lick troughs* and they are under extreme stress of 45-47-degree temperatures. It is very, very tough on the stock, especially this time of the year when they have baby calves on them.
A individual property can apply to the Department of Agriculture to be drought declared. They fill in forms that are submitted to a regional Climate Risk Coordinator for assessment. When drought conditions across an area or shire meet certain criteria, the Local Drought Committee recommend that the Minister of Agriculture declares that area or shire drought-stricken. Primary producers are then entitled to drought assistance from the state, which may include the establishment of water infrastructure for the provision of emergency supplies to improve animal welfare. The Federal government can make an EC (Exceptional Circumstance) declaration when a significant number of producers require assistance over and above normal risk-management procedures.
If you look at the map above, you'll see the southwestern corner of Queensland is not drought declared. This is Bulloo Shire. The area is very dry (150 mm of rainfall last year) and should be drought declared too, but it does not meet the requirement that properties have no livestock other than their own. Some properties have agistment cattle on them. At the end of the last drought, these graziers couldn't afford to restock and let other farmers' cattle use their pasture to earn a bit of extra income. The current drought is so extensive these cows can't go home, and they can't be sold because prices are so low.
A rule is a rule, as we all know, but how about another exceptional circumstance: that the Federal or State Agriculture Minister uses a bit of gumption and declares the Bulloo drought-stricken in any case? This is how the shire looked last June: I imagine it's a lot less green these days.
* A restricted feeding device that requires stock to lick their feed, resulting in less wastage from spillage and less feed being spoiled
Image at top courtesy of Queensland Department of Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries
This post was last edited on 11 March 2014