Drought is slowly strangling the eastern half – and many other locations – of Australia with hundreds of local communities struggling from farm gate to the shop cash register. The outlook points to worsening conditions as we move into summer.
The Prime Minister convened a National Summit in Canberra, which is being held today, to focus on what has been done, and what can be done in the short term and the long term to help our farmers and our communities to be more resilient.
As President of ALGA, I have been invited to attend and bring with me a number of mayors from affected councils across four states – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The mayors of the shires and regional councils of Barcaldine (Qld), Blayney (NSW), East Gippsland (Victoria) and Kimba (South Australia) answered the call and will share their experiences and put their ideas to the summit.
Councils are uniquely placed to support their communities in times of drought as farmers and local businesses cut expenditure and investment in the face of falling incomes. With the support of other levels of government, we can look at measures such as the following to make sure people get the information and support they need:
- local relief coordination
- increased infrastructure spending
- strategic investment in environmental and social infrastructure that keeps local farm workers local
- support for local community networks and events to strengthen community resilience, and
- mental health, information and counselling services.
In the longer run, the policy initiatives we have identified in our federal election document are aimed at strengthening the productivity, economic diversity and resilience of communities, allowing them to retain and attract new jobs and workers. These include returning Financial Assistance Grants to 1% of Commonwealth tax revenue, doubling Roads to Recovery funding, investment in local freight networks, establishing a community infrastructure fund and investing in better communications and internet services.
ALGA and your state and territory local government associations have been active in advocacy at the federal and state levels on behalf of our rural communities impacted by drought. Australians everywhere have responded to the calls to help drought-affected farmers and communities and councils, in partnership with state and federal governments, will be doing whatever they can to ensure the health of their communities.
This is a challenge facing all of us and by pulling together and looking out for each other we can help our communities to deal with the inevitable costs of the drought, both in the short and longer term.
Mayor David O’Loughlin