A sense of optimism is growing as rural and agricultural representatives prepare for the Prime Minister’s National Drought Summit in Canberra tomorrow, but they’re reserving judgement until they see if it delivers lasting policy improvements.
Scott Morrison has played a prominent role in the drought response since assuming office, which has been welcomed by regional communities.
Around 100 representatives will attend the summit. Attendees will get an update on the response to date and the event will conclude with a two hour roundtable discussion between federal ministers, state premiers and agriculture ministers, community and farmer representatives, charities, bankers and bureaucrats.
The PM’s Drought Envoy Barnaby Joyce and Coordinator-General for Drought Major General Stephen Day will address the summit.
Mr Morrison listed his key three priorities for drought policy at the National Farmers’ Federal National Congress last week: immediate relief measures, social and economic recovery and planning for long-term resilience.
“It's not just about the relief,” Mr Morrison said.
“It's not just about the recovery. It's the long-term resilience in the future plan to ensure that we are more prepared, we are more resilient when it comes to dealing with droughts of this scale into the future.”
Western Australia Farmers Federation president Tony York welcomed the Mr Morrison drought effort and said he hoped the summit would deliver substantive outcomes on the complex policies at play.
“I’m a little bit sceptical that it might be a feel good session, I hope we get the opportunity to discuss some serious issues,” Mr York said.
“It’s certainly a good thing that the new PM is supporting the ag sector and making sure he gets a full grasp of what we are dealing with in drought.”
Mr York said drought and climate change are linked and the policy response must reflect that.
“Mr Morrison might find himself conflicted. Some farmers feel you can't separate climate,” he said.
“We’ll be flagging the ag sector will be more involved in this space in coming years.”
Mr York said WA farmers had lead the way in drought preparedness and he would highlight that in-drought support “is often disruptive and dissuades people from best practice preparation”.
The Country Womens’ Association has played a prominent role in community drought support and co-ordinating the assistance roll-out.
CWA of Australia national president Tanya Cameron said the summit was a good move, and that regional people expected it to deliver tangible outcomes.
“CWA of Australia are glad to see the issue of drought being given a high priority by the Prime Minister,” Mrs Cameron said.
“We hope to come away from the event with some concrete commitments from government that will contribute to a significant improvement in drought policy across all jurisdictions.
“Our rural communities deserve real and meaningful outcomes in this area.”
The National Farmers’ Federation released a list of policy priorities ahead of the summit:
- A national drought policy that gets state and federal pushing in the same direction
- Drought risk management for farm enterprises such as adequate rural financial counselling services
- Federal support for drought insurance
- Tax enhanced incentives to encourage investment in best practice management
- Policy measures targeted at boosting the ability of rural communities to cope with downturn from drought
- Improvements to the Farm Household Allowance, which farmers have found difficult to access due to red tape