Shadow Agriculture and Resources Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has called for a comprehensive and meaningful Commonwealth drought policy as he prepares to visit water-starved Stanthorpe in Southeast Queensland on Monday.
Mr Fitzgibbon’s visit to the Granite Belt comes as the region’s horticultural industry association – Growcom – forecasts a $100 million downturn in the regional economy during the current financial year, as a result of lost production, lower wages and reduced economic activity.
Mr Fitzgibbon said Australia’s $63 billion agriculture sector revolves around centres such as Stanthorpe, 170 km south-west of Brisbane, and the Federal government must produce an integrated plan for extended dry periods.
“I’m concerned that what we’re seeing in Stanthorpe and other towns in the region may be the first of chain of events across the Eastern Seaboard,” said Mr Fitzgibbon. “Stanthorpe, Warwick, and the regional centres in the New England Tablelands, are all getting to the end of their municipal water. Where is the plan?”
“I’m in Stanthorpe to show solidarity with regional Australians, and to ask the locals what more we can do for them in Canberra,” said Mr Fitzgibbon, whose electorate is in the Hunter Valley. “I’m listening.”
Stanthorpe is an agricultural centre that hasn’t seen rain since March 2017, meaning most farm dams and water courses are dry. The town has been on water restrictions since March 14th, 2019. Stanthorpe’s water supply – Storm King Dam – is due to run dry by December if it doesn’t rain. The regional Council has begun plans to truck water into the area if there is no rain by the end of spring.
“I don’t think people in rural and regional Australia want another envoy or summit, or a fund that doesn’t pay-out for a year. They want their politicians to show leadership, to develop a policy and produce a plan.”
Senator Anthony Chisholm said the federal government needed to show leadership. “People in regional Queensland need real action from Canberra, to deliver policy and a plan to help them during these periods of drought and help prepare for future challenges.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the promise of dams is often unrealistic and at least a decade away. “Water infrastructure is part of the long-term solution but announcing dams is not a fix right now. Stanthorpe already has a dam, so does the New England Tablelands.”
He said the Coalition’s policy to have a Drought Envoy, a Drought Coordinator, a Drought Summit and now a Future Drought Fund that doesn’t disburse until 2020, has proven inadequate. He said Prime Minister Morrison, in his first speech, declared drought as his first priority, yet after a year in office the bush is still waiting for a coherent, integrated plan from the government.
“We need an evidence-based plan that supports regional economies and promotes national food security. We need to listen to the scientists – we have some of the world’s best. The Commonwealth has a vital role to play, which it was doing through COAG’s SCoPI before the Coalition abolished it in 2013. We can’t let the regions and State Governments carry all the burden of drought – Canberra has to play its part and that means using its intellectual resources to come up with a plan.”
Mr Fitzgibbon and Senator Chisholm are holding a ‘Meet and Greet’ at the Stanthorpe RSL from 5pm on Sunday evening, and are touring the area on Monday.