WA pastoralists seek urgent financial support

WA pastoralists seek urgent financial support

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Next year will be "too late" for State and Federal government assistance to prop up drought-affected pastoralists in WA during their time of need, despite the "fringe" financial measures being made available, according to Hedland Export Depot manager Paul Brown.

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NEXT year will be "too late" for State and Federal government assistance to prop up drought-affected pastoralists in WA during their time of need, despite the "fringe" financial measures being made available, according to Hedland Export Depot manager Paul Brown.

Mr Brown said there needed to be an independent envoy/commissioner appointed, "on the ground" in WA, to assist the Federal Minister Bridget McKenzie with the power to allocate funds directly to assist drought-affected pastoralists with what they needed now, not weeks or months down the track.

Mr Brown said urgent action needed to happen by the State government with regards to fodder and water assistance.

"The industry is facing extremely high straw and hay prices next year," Mr Brown said.

Cereal hay prices are already above $300 per tonne.

"A great amount of tonnage of hay has been sent east which has used up the State's stockpile, which would have otherwise been available and used by drought-affected pastoralists at an affordable price," he said.

"As a consequence of that hay is in short supply and I have been told by suppliers that it will be unlikely to have a continuous supply available at the depot, and will have to source feed from somewhere else."

Mr Brown said there needed to be "some kind of subsidy or monetary mechanism that farmers could access now to hold back a potential animal welfare nightmare".

"They know there's a potential animal welfare disaster out there now so why not go and stop it before it happens," Mr Brown said.

"Both governments are well aware of the issues on the pastoral estate and it would be absolutely criminal if they didn't step in and apply funds immediately.

"It is cheaper and much more effective to prevent an animal welfare crisis than to respond to one and the government has a responsibility to make sure that doesn't occur."

Mr Brown said the issue had been "going on for two to three years" in WA and he knew of "three or four stations off the top of my head that have totally destocked".

"Instead of talking about resilience they should be allocating funding to drought proof the pastoral estate," Mr Brown said.

"The way they do that is by putting in water infrastructure."It is all about water, water, water."It's the only way to stop this from happening again."

Mr Brown said by expanding the irrigated agricultural areas in the pastoral regions it would build the capacity of the north and allow for greater diversification.

Some pastoralists in lower rainfall areas of the Gascoyne have stock that are unfit to load for agistment or slaughter and while the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development's (DPIRD) dry season response team has made available assistance, he said it didn't go far enough in some cases.

"It won't hurt to give the industry some minor subsidies to support them," Mr Brown said.

"They can't transport animals if they are too weak.

"And it's not through neglect - they have just run out of water."

Mr Brown said the talk of more funding schemes by the government for mental health support and roading was "just sheer bulls...".

"The minister has the discretionary power and they need to immediately fund feed and water requirements of pastoralists," he said.

"The State government can step in.

"They did it at Noonkanbah and Yandeyarra where they spent $1 million.

"But they are not showing the same level of assistance for the rest of those who are struggling."

Mr Brown said Yandeyarra station had been totally destocked, with cattle sent to Yeeda station for slaughter, "all paid for by DPIRD".

Mardie station also destocked recently.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) Pastoral Committee chairman Locky McTaggart said the PGA executive was holding a meeting this week where it would discuss the current situation in WA and drought/aid/relief measures that could be actioned.

He said pastoralists in the rangelands were not expecting to see any relief with rainfall until mid to late January and it was difficult to know what to do and what to do first to assist those that were already struggling through drought conditions, "other than throwing feed and water at the problem", which was not economically viable in the long-term.

PGA policy officer Doug Hall said the Farmers Across Borders - Hay from WA hay run into the Murchison and Gascoyne next month is "one mechanism" for industry helping industry.

He said while in the short-term there may be a need for "stop-gap funding" the PGA had a focus on the long-term sustainability of the industry - which included water infrastructure and other diversification opportunities that would provide long-term economic support to the regions.

"It's an evolving space and we need to be innovative in our thinking and work with the government where regulations may limit innovative solutions," Mr Hall said.

"There may be a need to develop an argument to alter the regulations to benefit the state of the pastoral ecosystem."

Mr Hall said DPIRD's dry season response officers were "very aware of the situation pastoralists were under and they had a good working relationship with pastoralists".

He said the recent announcement of additional funding for Recognised Biosecurity Groups for the culling of camels, horses, kangaroos and dogs would assist but it was also the government fulfilling its responsibility as a land manager under the law."

PGA members want to do the right thing in regards to animal welfare and sustainable use of the rangelands so long as they are given every opportunity to do so," Mr Hall said.

"Other regulations and acts can get in the way of that."

Mr Hall said the PGA would be seeking for the Pastoral Rent Lease to be reduced across the board to assist in the cash flow of pastoralists who had received rent increases, in one instance of 570pc over five years.

He said there had been a commitment from the Minister for Lands to review the current methodology of the pastoral rent system and the PGA would be following up to ensure that happens.

Last week State Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan was shrugging off criticism in parliament about why the government had not declared the situation in WA a "drought".

Last week she used a Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) map which showed the difference between the circumstances over three years to argue that WA was different to the east because it had received, with the exception of the east Pilbara and a small area in the southern rangelands, average or just below average winter rainfall this year.

"Part of the problem is that a lot of the policy settings and responses are designed for the Eastern States where there are very profound drops in rainfall that past for three, four or five years, whereas our problem in WA is a more systemic one," Ms MacTiernan said.

"Our averages are declining across most of the regions, with the exception of the Kimberley and parts of the Pilbara.

"There is no magical thing that happens when we say 'drought'.

"We are trying to focus on the situations in WA and how we build more resilience in for our farmers as they face this increasingly drying and heating climate.

"The calls for the State government to declare a drought have highlighted that there has been a shift in the political landscape that not too many people have been aware of."

The change is that State governments no longer declare drought, and that no Federal funding scheme is based on needing a State government to declare drought - with the exception of the Queensland government, which still does have a system where State-based assistance only goes to properties it declares as drought-affected.

Ms MacTiernan has repeatedly made this point publicly, but it wasn't being understood.

"The last time there was a policy that required a State government declaration to access assistance was under the Federal government's 'exception circumstances' policy, which ended in 2008," she said.

"Under that policy, States had to declare areas as facing 'exceptional circumstances' before Federal assistance would flow.

"Nowadays all Federal and State assistance is based on individual circumstances and on BoM rainfall data."

Having said that the vast majority of WA pastoralists are able to access the Federal schemes according to the drought loan eligibility map at ric.gov.au/farmers/drought.

Only a small part of WA is not eligible for the loans, based on rainfall data collected by BoM.

Recently Federal Water Minister David Littleproud fronted up to pastoralists in Kalgoorlie-Boulder on his first visit to WA under the new portfolio.

He pledged to make available up to $250m in drought assistance funds, which were currently unavailable to WA pastoralists because no council in WA is on the drought affected areas list.

Mr Littleproud said he would be notifying councils that were eligible and expected them to then "come back to us early in the new year with projects".

Last month Federal Durack MP Melissa Price welcomed the increased support for members of her electorate and encouraged them to take advantage of the opportunities they presented.

"I know pastoralists and many local communities have been preparing for the coming summer as best they can, but it has been a long time since some of the pastoral regions in Durack have had any significant, consistent rain," Ms Price said.

"The assistance measures announced can help with family, staff and stock welfare throughout this summer and beyond.

"The new measures include re-directing $200m from the Building Better Regions Fund into drought communities and an extra $138.9m into our Roads to Recovery initiative.

The latest $200m round of the Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) will be wholly and solely dedicated to helping the communities hardest hit by drought.

Ms Price urged communities in her electorate to take advantage ofthe fund and get local infrastructure and community-building projects of all sizes off the ground.

The funding is available under two streams, the Infrastructure Projects Stream, and the Community Investments Stream.Applications close on December 19, 2019.

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