Enthusiasm for the ‘Drought PM’ drying up

Enthusiasm for the ‘Drought PM’ drying up

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison flanked by state premiers during the Council of Australian Governments  meeting in Adelaide. Photo by Kelly Barnes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison flanked by state premiers during the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Adelaide. Photo by Kelly Barnes.

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Scott Morrison's drought agenda criticised after COAG meeting

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The Prime Minister’s plans to make drought reform a selling point for his administration are falling flat.

Scott Morrison’s drought achievements were criticised following Wednesday’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.

State premiers and the PM formed an agreement on drought. Their joint statement the agreement would improve risk management and preparedness.

The new agreement was largely a reiteration of the intergovernmental agreement developed by the former Labor government, which the state and federal government signed up to in late 2013.

Conspicuously absent was discussion of a national drought policy which is consistent across state and federal governments - a key goal across the rural sector for years.

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said today’s Agreement does not identify benchmarks for measuring progress, or allow for independent input and assessment from outside government.

"The National Drought Agreement sets out important goals and principles but is not a practical or coordinated strategy for building national drought resilience," Ms Simson said.

"It lacks a coordination mechanism linking governments, industry and community groups and a mechanism to assess the effectiveness of drought preparedness and support programs,” Ms Simson said.

Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the COAG drought policy lacked new initiatives and failed to provide for ongoing reform.

“(The drought agreement) is close to a carbon copy of the agreement the former Labor Government agreed on with the States in 2013.  The biggest change is the title,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“Barnaby Joyce’s first act as the new Agriculture Minister in 2013 was to abolish the COAG committee charged with the responsibility to implement the agreed reform program. That’s when reform stalled. Five years have been lost.”

In August Scott Morrison announced to much fanfare that he would make drought his top priority when he assumed office.

“Drought is our most urgent and pressing need right now,” Mr Morrison said.

By late October Mr Morrison had convened a National Drought Summit.

He invited selected politicians, farmer representatives and charities to discuss reform ideas and announced a Future Fund investment of $5 billion that would pay out $100 million a year toward drought prevention and support from 2020.

Farming stakeholders were invited to attend follow-up meetings after the Summit to develop a long-term national drought strategy.

The talking points for the meetings were criticised for a lack  depth and detail.

Drought policy expert Canberra University Professor Linda Botterill said the drought reform process “didn’t appear to be best way to make good public policy, done in such a hurry with limited consultation”.

“The process seems to be quick and dirty and I’ve got no idea what consideration was given to alternative drought policies that haven’t made the agenda,” Ms Botterill said.

Ms Simson welcomed the PM’s focus on drought and his Future Fund initiative.

Mr Morrison announced several new in-drought support measures at the Drought Summit:

  • $30m for charities to help families pay food and utility bills
  • $50m for water infrastructure,
  • $10m for mental health services 
  • Extending the drought communities program from 60 to 80 local councils
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