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South Australian Drought

Radio Broadcast

Peter Groecke, Farmer (5AA 9.09-9.14)

(Byner: Our Primary Industries Minister found it too hard to say that parts of SA has a drought but the PM has given councils assistance to help drought-proof communities … there’s now a national coordinator appointed to oversee the announced drought assistance, Major General Stephen Day … councils in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria are getting a million dollars for trucking and drinking water, nothing for SA. There’s an issue on our west coast yet no state money but can SA farmers access funds already announced? We understand it is, yes. We’re going to talk about this in some detail …Peter Groecke … tell us your situation and where you are.) Good morning … I’m a farmer in the outer Barossa Valley … I’ve worked on state and national issues privately and also with governments, both state and federal previously. I am extremely concerned with PIRSA and also the Minister’s statements in concern to drought. Drought is a real issue for small segments throughout South Australia and some have had successive droughts … parts of the upper Mallee have got drought, parts of the west coast do have drought, we have got parts from other areas including Orroroo and the North East Pastoral in serious drought … as a grassroots farmer … I’m losing confidence in PIRSA and whole of government because this does not only mean we are talking about the Ministry for agriculture and PIRSA … we are talking about planning matters, we are talking about security for the State’s economic benefit over future generations … when the Federal Government decided to take and amend drought strategy policy there were directions given to farmers to make farms drought-proof. In that drought-proofing there was a need to put up shedding to store fodder … I’m a farmer who has supplied drought fodder for people in the State and interstate, Northern Territory … parts of New South Wales … the policy [unclear] Local and State Government say that a hay shed is non-complying in the landscape, this is most bizarre. They then said we should put farm management deposits away when years are tedious and troublesome and some of their direct policies are making it extremely hard and making it less profitable to farm … over the last decade … PIRSA has had massive funding cutbacks, many of the advisors and staffers within ministries and departments are not up to speed and haven’t got credentials we need for the farming community to be nationally and internationally competitive, we need to look at the State’s economy, where are some of the key drivers for our economy and where’s the money coming from. It is clearly broad acre farming is the key driver for our State’s economy … the definition of our rainfall deficient zones this is not a tedious task. The Bureau of Meteorology puts up monthly statistical data for areas which have rainfall deficiencies. Why isn’t there mapping overlays so it’s extremely easy to define exact areas where their rainfall is deficient and we can then map it on various months years and saying ‘this area now has a two or three year rainfall deficiency and it is absolutely serious drought.’

Caller Charles, Farmer (5AA 9.14-9.16)

(Byner: Charles you’re another farmer …) we’re in an area that we’re not actually affected by the drought this year, we’re … having almost a normal season and so we’re very, very lucky … this is not affecting us … what I heard you … interviews with the Minister last week made me very upset … (Byner: why?) Well first I thought with the change of State Government I thought that interviews like that might have been a thing of the past but obviously not. I just can’t understand why somebody’s not prepared to call a spade a spade. We’ve been fortunate enough we’ve been able to buy a few sheep over the last couple of months … we’ve got feed while others haven’t … (Byner: how is it that you’ve got feed and they haven’t?) Well we’ve just been lucky that we’ve been in an area where it’s rained … there’ll be other years when other areas have good years and it might be dry where we are, that’s just farming … we’ve bought sheep from some places where there basically has not been a blade of grass on the property, it’s been like the middle of the road, they have sold the breeding stock because … they’ve got no feed left in the paddock and two, they could not source anymore feed. (Byner: … what would be the best way to help those farmers in drought now?) I’m just starting to wonder … contrary to what the Minister said last week it might almost be a little late because now the State has … run out of hay supplies and that. We sold the last of our hay on Friday interstate. It’s actually cheaper for the farmers to buy interstate where they get a 50% freight subsidy rather than transport it around to the west coast … seven or eight hours away.

John Darley, Advance SA (5AA 9.16-9.20)

(Byner: John Darley … that’s exactly the point you’ve made to me.) … just adding to what Peter and Charles said, the drought in New South Wales we’re told is at 100% of the agricultural land of that state and 60% of Queensland and I’m advised that the drought in parts of South Australia north-east of Leigh Creek around to Mannum, east of Eudunda, Point Pass, Mount Mary is the worst drought they’ve ever seen and west coast the same. (Byner: … how do you reconcile the comments from the Minister last Friday?) Well I just can’t reconcile that … as a result of that interview I contacted the Minister’s Chief of Staff and also the Head of Primary Industries and said ‘Look … the Minister didn’t give any advice to farmers in these drought areas and I think what PIRSA should do immediately is to setup a hotline so that farmers can contact the department and get all the information that they need.’ (Byner: … is that department setup to provide that service … the last thing you want is to ring a hotline … and be told ‘No, well, ring Centrelink … do this, do that,’ is that what we’re talking about here?) … I think I got that message across to the Minister’s Chief of Staff. It’s no good the hotline telling people to ring Centrelink and all those people, they’ve gotta have people manning that hotline who can give proper advice to farmers. (Byner: Has that happened or is it going to happen?) That actually happened on Saturday afternoon. The hotline is 1800 … (Byner: 1800 …) 255 566 … and you should speak to someone from PIRSA who can provide advice to farmers … (Byner: but they might be told what they already know. Remember the Minister on Friday said ‘Oh, PIRSA can come out and tell you what you should do with your animals.’ Hey – that’s pun intended – that’s precisely what farmers are already doing. Now what about the freight issue?) Well as Charles mentioned it’s cheaper to send hay to New South Wales than it is to the west coast … because of freight subsidies … on the weekend the Queensland Government announced freight subsidies for that state. (Byner: Well there’s no money in the budget, the Minister admitted this and I suspect that’s why they’re reacting the way they are so have we found any money in the budget?) Well I think they need to start looking again … the budget’s due in September and this is serious, it’s being reported in the national press that the drought in Australia could bring on a recession … (Byner: you’ve got elements of the agri business saying this is all being overblown … within a day of that comment the Government appoint … a national coordinator for the drought – someone’s wrong.) Exactly. And when farmers are having to pay – in the past hay was around about $160 a tonne, it is currently $350 a tonne and there’s no … freight subsidies in South Australia at this stage … (Byner: what we have to do … is offer our farmers more than advice … generally the people in the bureaucracy don’t know as much – and there’d be few exceptions – as the farmers do so what they need is some sort of practical assistance, is that not the case?) Exactly … there has to be freight subsidies for hay to farmers in South Australia … (Byner: as a Member of the Upper House are you gonna lobby for that now?) I certainly am and I’ll be talking to the Minister this week sometime.