Government drought inaction criticised

Government drought inaction criticised

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The Nationals WA Member for the North West Central Vince Catania (left) with Shire of Wiluna president Jim Quadrio of Granite Peak station.

The Nationals WA Member for the North West Central Vince Catania (left) with Shire of Wiluna president Jim Quadrio of Granite Peak station.

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The Nationals WA team has been grilling the State government over its "inaction" on the "drought crisis" affecting Southern Rangelands pastoralists as some resort to destroying cattle too weak to move.

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THE Nationals WA team has been grilling the State government over its "inaction" on the "drought crisis" affecting Southern Rangelands pastoralists as some resort to destroying cattle too weak to move.

Last week in State parliament North West Central MP Vince Catania called on Premier Mark McGowan "to implement an immediate response to the drought crisis affecting the Southern Rangelands in order to mitigate the enormous toll inaction is having on animal welfare, pastoralists and regional communities".

Mr Catania said pastoralists had been shooting their cattle because they were too weak to move due to a lack of feed and water.

He said he had been visiting pastoral stations for a while and they were "all singing the same sort of hymn" that it was going to be a difficult summer ahead, especially if they didn't have enough feed and water for their cattle.

"Some are at the point where they can't be moved," Mr Catania said.

"You hope you have a good season and you destock and agist where you can but in some cases they have no viable options.

"The reality is that at the moment cattle need feed and water and it is the State government's responsibility to manage that to prevent an animal welfare disaster."

Mr Catania said it was hard to identify the number of pastoralists who needed assistance but there were "definitely cattle in the thousands that need to be moved".

He said the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) had visited 100 stations across WA, about 20 of which were in the Southern Rangelands, and had spent $1m since December on assisting Noonkanbah station manage its animal welfare crisis.

"How is this any different," he said.

"The government could immediately subsidise transport costs to assist Farmers Across Borders get their hay up there to prevent an animal welfare issue."

Mr Catania has been engaging with pastoralists and those who could provide some assistance to feed undernourished livestock and bring them to a point of being able to be transported off the stations for agistment or sale.

"The drought goes right the way from the Nullarbor all the way up to parts of the Pilbara, and parts of the Kimberley are also in serious drought," he said in parliament last week.

"I am focusing on the Southern Rangelands to highlight the plight of our pastoralists and the lack of rainfall.

"There is not a blade of grass to be seen anywhere on these pastoral stations.

"It is so dry that the birds have deserted the place.

"In fact, a lot of those birds are dead on the ground due to lack of water or feed.

"That also leads to feral pests such as camels and wild horses coming to water points, destroying the fencing.

"Those large animals come to water points and also kick and damage the stock that are desperately trying to get feed and water."

Mr Catania said he would be heading to the Gascoyne Junction area next week to meet with pastoralists and assess their needs.

He has also called for the Premier and Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan to visit the region and see first-hand the situation on the ground.

"At the National Drought Summit last year the Premier and the minister agreed that it was up to the State to look after animal welfare and provide fodder for those farmers doing it tough in drought conditions," he said

"But now that the pastoralists in the Southern Rangelands have put up their hand for help the minister has ruled out any meaningful State assistance.

"While the minister and Premier have forgotten what they promised at the summit stock are dying in droves."

Mr Catania accused Ms MacTiernan of turning her back "on Southern Rangelands communities battling water and food shortages and was putting the welfare of thousands of animals at risk".

"The minister is completely out of touch when it comes to understanding the severity of the devastating conditions, focusing on future drought resilience measures instead of what needs to happen right now," he said.

Mr Catania said the New South Wales government provided emergency drought subsidies of $70 million this year to assist landholders transport stock, fodder and water to areas in drought.

"It is well past time the metro-centric Labor government in WA thought about the regions and realise they have a similar obligation in their own backyard.

"It shows how much the minister is unaware of the pastoralists' plight when she says they should just de-stock or move animals to other areas for agistment.

"There is nowhere for them to go because the water and food shortage stretches so wide - there isn't a blade of grass anywhere.

"It is long overdue for the minister to get out to the rangelands to recognise there is a major problem and meet the pastoralists I spoke to because they are desperate for the government to step in."

In response Ms MacTiernan said the "issues we are seeing in the Southern Rangelands are endemic and systemic".

"While we are experiencing a significant dry period, the condition of the Southern Rangelands has deteriorated for decades.

"Our government is working proactively to address the poor condition of the rangelands.

"The State Government is finalising its list of priority drought initiatives to submit for Federal funding, and will be fighting to ensure WA gets its fair share of Federal drought funding.

"While not yet finalised, the list includes R&D projects to improve feed base and pasture growth and regenerate degraded and dehydrated rangelands.

"Our focus needs to be on regenerating the Southern Rangelands and providing alternative income streams for pastoralists, including through carbon farming."

Ms MacTiernan said a dry season response program was underway and DPIRD was working closely with pastoralists to support seasonal management and decisions.

"Destocking, purchasing external feed or investing in water infrastructure are business decisions for individual farmers," she said.

"Government cannot do the business of farming and short term cash contributions to help pay the running costs of a station is not how we best help."

She confirmed that DPIRD officers have visited more than 100 pastoral properties across the State since July, including more than 20 in the Southern Rangelands.

"The visits are focused on ensuring that pastoralists are prepared for the ongoing dry season in order to avoid animal welfare issues," she said.

"While the majority of pastoralists are managing these conditions, DPIRD is working with a small number of properties around livestock management measures given the season, including steps to improve water provision."

Other measures the governmet has taken have been to streamline the agistment process for pastoralists, while the Pastoral Lands Board has authorised the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage to approve applications on its behalf, to allow the early movement of drought-affected stock between properties.

She said the State Government had also provided $50,000 additional funding each to the Pilbara Regional Biosecurity Group, Meekatharra Rangelands Biosecurity Association and Goldfields-Nullarbor Rangelands Biosecurity Association for dry season pest control.

The funding has enabled them to uindertake planned shoots to control large feral herbivores in the east and west Pilbara and in the northern Goldfields and Nullarbor.

"The State Government is looking at whether we can provide further assistance for feral camel control in the rangelands," Ms MacTiernan said.

"Pastoralists concerned about whether they have sufficient feed to ensure their animals' welfare should contact DPIRD's dry season response group.

"Farmers who need assistance have access to Farm Household Allowance payments, Farm Investment Loans and Drought Loans, On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebates, rural financial counselling for farmers and small rural businesses, access to Farm Management Deposits and funding for social support such as counselling and regional community development."

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