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Strong local government advocacy behind Commonwealth’s latest drought funding

Advocacy by ALGA and state and territory local government associations has led to the Commonwealth’s expanded drought assistance, which includes support for child care centres that councils called for at the National General Assembly of Local Government.

The Commonwealth on 7 November announced a package which included widening the Drought Communities Extension Programme by six councils to 128 – totaling $128 million and – plus a $50 million fund for council infrastructure projects.

Some of these councils are receiving a second round of funding, as many have already spent the funds allocated earlier.

ALGA and its member state and territory local government associations in drought affected jurisdictions have made numerous representations to Deputy Prime Minister McCormack, Treasurer Frydenberg, Drought Minister Littleproud, and Local Government Minister Coulton, emphasising that councils and communities need support, not just farmers.

“We’re really pleased by today’s announcement because this much needed money will make a real difference to communities hurting amid the relentless drought,” ALGA Acting President, Cr Linda Scott, said.

“Councils have identified a range of projects that can be rolled out rapidly to support their communities, including farmers and farm-dependent businesses. Wherever possible, these projects have multiple benefits including jobs, infrastructure upgrades and community wellbeing.

“In addition to building resilience, these projects also create local jobs, not just for farmers but also other types of local workers who’ve been unable to find employment due to the drought.”

The Commonwealth added Greater Hume, Hilltops, Lockhart and Upper Lachlan (all in NSW) and South Australia’s Tatiara and Kangaroo Island to the list of 122 eligible councils that received $1m each in September 2019.

Those 128 councils can also apply for $138.9 million in Roads to Recovery Funding in calendar year 2020.

There’s also $5 million from the Community Child Care Fund for centres which have lost income because families can’t families can’t afford fees, and $10m for drought-affected schools.

The National General Assembly in June passed Forbes Shire Council’s motion which called on the Minister for Education to provide additional ‘Drought Relief Payments’ to regionally based child care centres, mobile pre-schools and Preschools to pass onto families as free pre-school places and attendance for -5-year-olds.

The ALGA Board noted the resolution and wrote to Education Minister Dan Tehan MP and Minister for Water Resources and Drought, David Littleproud MP.

Mr Tehan replied to ALGA in October, and on 7 November said the Commonwealth would provide $15 million to ensure childcare centres and schools could stay open amid the drought.

Climate Change

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth also yesterday released a report by former Drought Co-ordinator General Major General Stephen Day, which was dated April 2019, and the government’s response.

“As a consequence of climate change, drought is likely to be more regular, longer in duration, and broader in area”, Major General Day’s report said, adding some areas of Australia could become “more marginal and unproductive.”

His recommendations include a pilot community resilience program for a not-for-profit organisation to work with local governments and communities to help their ability to “adapt and cope with chronic stresses and acute shocks”.

That pilot project should be evaluated, with the findings informing consideration of a national program, the Major General added.

The Commonwealth noted that recommendation and said it was “partially implemented through two programs” – the Drought Communities Program and project grants via the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal.

Fifteen Councils Added to Drought Communities Program

A $15 million extension has been added to the Drought Communities Program, with 15 additional councils now eligible to apply for funding under the program.

Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation Bridget McKenzie said the extension brought the total funding for drought relief projects in the worst-affected local government areas to $96 million.

“We have identified which local government areas across Australia are the most drought-affected, taking into account Bureau of Meteorology data and the proportion of the workforce employed in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector to assess the impact of drought in the region,” Minister McKenzie said.

“As a result of this review, 15 more councils were identified to be heavily drought affected, taking the total number of councils eligible for this program from 81 to 96. Minister McKenzie said the newly eligible councils span across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

“These councils will have until the end of 2019 to apply for and complete their projects,” she said.

“We know that drought is felt as hard on the main street as it is in the back paddock which is why our drought response is designed to help farmers as well as the towns and communities that surround them”.

“This funding targets some of the worst hit areas, making it possible for councils to implement important infrastructure projects and other drought-relief activities.”

Funding has been used for a wide variety of projects that assist farmers and residents such as the Bollon Town Common Fencing Upgrade, which will renew fences for better management of stock close to main roads in the Balonne Shire, and the Unsealed Road Infrastructure Upgrade, which will install water filling stations closer to farmers and upgrading cattle grids in the Tamworth Shire. Becoming eligible for the DCP Extension also enables farmers, farm workers and suppliers/contractors to apply for the Drought Community Support Initiative (DCSI).

The DCSI provides up to $3,000 per eligible drought-affected household. Arrangements are being finalised to ensure this valuable support can become available as soon as possible through providers including St Vincent de Paul and The Salvation Army.

Further information on the program and a list of eligible councils is available at https://www.business.gov.au/assistance/drought-communities-programme