Politicians have heads in sand over drought

27 Jul, 2006 07:00 PM
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AWB director and Morawa grower Chris Moffet pulled no punches when he met Agriculture Minister Kim Chance last week to discuss ramifications of the season¹s drought.

Mr Moffet¹s external manner was cordial when sharing his thoughts with Mr Chance about what should be done to tackle the drought but his internal impressions were quite different.

His view of politicians is almost as bleak as the weather charts confronting him and other WA farmers each day.

Mr Moffet said he had hope for signs of rain but he saw nothing but gloom when looking for a better deal for regional Australians from agripolitical leaders.

³My main concern is that the State Government is not giving any sign of recognition to what Mullewa Shire president Nino Messina has described as not a drought, but a disaster,² he said.

³This drought we are facing is not a farmer¹s problem but a rural community problem.

³Rural businesses, small and medium size businesses, freight companies are all going to feel the pressure if the rain doesn¹t come.

³Our last shot of hope is if rain arrives Monday or Tuesday but if it isn¹t a substantial rain then the situation will go from being a disaster to something beyond description.²

Mr Moffet said he expected more leadership from the Agriculture Minister but was disappointed with what he had seen so far.

He said the signs were not encouraging, despite Mr Chance¹s willingness to listen first-hand to growers and community leaders.

³I was looking for some sign that the State Government had at least done some deep thinking about what should be done in a drought,² Mr Moffet said.

³Droughts arise from time to time and farmers accept that we have to deal with it but given that this is now officially the driest winter in recorded history I would have thought that the government would have at least had a contingency plan in place.

³After listening to Mr Chance I am totally convinced that that the government has no idea how widespread the situation is and what the cost to the community is going to be. They have no idea at all.

³I was hoping for a sign from Mr Chance that would show he had some sign of a plan that was ready to be put into action and of course they don¹t have a plan.²

Mr Moffet estimated that the $1 billion price tag attached to the drought would fall short of the actual cost.

³If it rains on Monday the seven million tonne crop estimate may not prove to be as outrageous as it may seem now but if it doesn¹t rain then the state¹s crop will be down to three million tonne I would imagine,² he said.

Mr Moffet was also concerned that other political parties had not spoken out during the crisis.

³I would have hoped that the Opposition would have taken some initiative at this time,² he said.

³The silence from opposition leader Paul Omodei about what¹s happening in the bush is deafening.

³One would have hoped that somebody would have provoked a debate about the drought but so far it hasn¹t happened.

³Where are the people elected to represent the interests of farmers?

³I assume they are in Acapulco or they have all flown away for the winter.

³Mr Omodei has said nothing ­ it¹s as if they don¹t recognise that anything is going on and just how serious it is.²

Mr Moffet was not only concerned about the Opposition¹s lack of interest, but its lack of foresight.

³I believe that the Opposition should not only be severely criticising the State Government but they should also be doing something about it,² he said.

³If you are going to criticise you have got to come up with a plan that illustrates you have thought about the problem.

³The Opposition should be putting forward proof that they recognise that the drought is a serious problem beyond anything experienced and it requires far more than band aids it requires a lot of serious economic adjustment.²

Mr Moffet said the drought should be the catalyst for a thorough examination of the declining attitudes toward the economic and electoral power of the hinterland that is agriculture.

³Australia is the most urbanised nation on earth,² he said.

³There are more people living in urban environments in Australia than there is in England, France and Botswana.

³The people who enjoy this fantastic city life do so because it is driven by the natural wealth of this nation and this natural wealth is driven by the hard work and sacrifice of those people living outside of metropolitan boundaries.

³These people who live and work on the land deserve to have governments that think beyond the city limits.

³It is just abysmal that more country businesses will close, that more farmers will be weighed down by debt and children will be denied proper education because parents can¹t afford to send them to boarding school anymore.

³Sadly and worst of all young men and women who have chosen to liver and work on the land will have their enthusiasm severely dented if they can¹t see that the contribution that are making to this great land is not recognised and protected by government.

³It is a serious indictment on the lack of intellectual capacity of our government that they can¹t develop strategies for dealing with this drought before it gets beyond the crisis point where it is at now.²

Mr Moffet said Australia¹s political landscape was too heavily-geared toward the city and was leading to a rapid decline in the quality of regional life.

³The average farmer is struggling to communicate with politicians due to the lack of interest shown towards the plight of regional Australians,² he said.

³Contact your local member of Parliament if you like but don¹t hold your breath expecting him or her to do anything other than ring their hands and make clucking noises.

³If the Federal and State Governments want to have two classes of citizens then they should just tell us and we will not live in hope that there is somebody who knows or cares about the countryside.

³We need a turnaround greater than the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus to demonstrate if there¹s anyone out there with the moral fibre and vision to lead this country and the intellect to put it into place.²

Mr Moffet said he was also concerned about the declining role of farmer lobby groups in the political process, citing declining resources and apathy towards membership as the main causes for concern.

³When the wheat hits the fan it is virtually impossible for rural lobby groups to do everything that is expected of them because they simply haven¹t got the money to do everything that the need to do,² he said.

³Too many farmers don¹t belong to an organisation that is able to scream the loudest when they need help.

³You can not expect the fire brigade to turn up if you have never paid your fire insurance.²

Mr Moffett said he would like to see the State Government adopt suggestions from the Morawa meeting to identify capital works programs to help create employment in drought hit regions.

³The shires should try and identify meaningful projects that will increase the ability to make a significant contribution,² he said.

³But it needs to be more than just raking up leaves on the oval.

³In ten years, long after the drought is gone people should be able to look back and say we did that in 2006 and that was a positive turnaround from a potentially bad situation.²

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