Morrison Government’s drought response reached high farce on Friday when Local Government Areas that were added to the eligibility list for the Drought Communities Support Program, included Victoria’s Moyne Shire but not Singleton. Scott Morrison wants you to believe that Moyne and Muswellbrook are in drought, but Singleton is not. Locals hold a different view.
Moyne Council was just as surprised as Singleton Council. The south-west Victorian town’s representatives say they are not in drought and they’ve appealed to the Government to hand the money on to towns further north where it’s really needed.
Scott Morrison once spent $180 million of taxpayers’ money on a television advertisement featuring a bikini-clad Lara Bingle asking: “so where the bloody hell are you?” It was a controversial move. Indeed the UK Government banned it from being run in the Old Dart.
Our farmers and rural communities are now asking the same thing of Scott Morrison. In regional Australia our landscapes are burning, our townships are running out of water and our farmers are facing a calamity.
Since Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce put the Council of Australian Government’s 2013 drought reform plan on the back burner, the Government now led by Scott Morrison has used every instrument available to it to kick drought reform down the road. They’ve done so in part to improve their chances of securing a budget surplus; in part because they refuse to acknowledge the link between carbon emissions and drought; and they’ve done so in part due to National Party fundamentalism.
The strategies for avoiding and deferring hard reforms have been many. We’ve had the appointment of a Drought Envoy, a Drought Coordinator, a Drought Task Force and a Drought Summit. Scott Morrison, on becoming Prime Minister last year, declared that drought was his number one priority. But the Future Drought Fund, which became law recently, will not draw-down its first dollar until July 2020. Even then, not one cent will go directly to farmers.
The Morrison Government is all talk and no action. The Prime Minister has even stooped to massively exaggerating the amount the Government is spending on drought measures, by referring to it as $7 billion. Six years ago, they said they’d build dams everywhere, but now in their third term, they’ve not so much as turned a sod of soil. The last major water infrastructure project financed by the Commonwealth was the Midlands project in Tasmania, and that was in 2013 under a Labor government.
We learned the former Drought Envoy did not deliver a report to Government. The Prime Minister told us he was appointing Barnaby Joyce “to listen to affected communities so he can feed back a deeper picture of the human and economic impact of the drought, including positive examples of resilience”. We are still waiting.
The revelation that Barnaby Joyce did not deliver a report on his work came from Drought Minister David Littleproud in response to Labor’s request for the report. In a letter to the President of the Senate, Minister Littleproud said, “the request for the former Special Envoy for Drought Assistance and Recovery’s report cannot be complied with as he did not prepare a final report and as such there are (sic) no document exists”.
But Drought Coordinator Major General Stephen Day did write a report, and we know his report has been handed to the Government. But we can’t see what it contains because the Government refuses to release it, no doubt because it includes criticisms of the Government’s drought response.
Farmers and rural residents in drought-affected communities will be feeling understandably abandoned by the Morrison Government. For six years they’ve been hoping for a national, comprehensive and effective drought policy, an all-of-governments policy based on four pillars: greenhouse gas mitigation; climate adaptation; water infrastructure investment; and effective income support where necessary.
Yet this Government continues to sit on its hands. Regional Australians have become the Prime Minister’s forgotten people.
It’s time to stop talking. It’s time to act.
This piece was first published in the Newcastle Herald on Tuesday, 1 October 2019.