Councils offer aid to drought-stricken farmers

Councils in states worst affected by drought are providing support and aid to affected farmers and communities in the wake of one of the worst dry seasons in decades.

From making water available at discounted prices to providing rate exemptions and free hay bales, councils in NSW and Queensland have been supporting communities and farmers grappling with drought.

This week the NSW Government declared the whole state is either in drought or drought-affected, while Queensland, where 23 local government areas are drought-declared, yesterday launched the Queensland Drought Appeal, with the state saying it will contribute $100,000.

In Gunnedah, one of the worst affected regions in NSW, the shire council recently provided 285 round bales of hay and grass to charity Aussie Helpers to be distributed to local farmers.

Councillors voted to donate the bales that came from grass at Gunnedah Airport, which had been getting long and required cutting.

“By baling and donating what would otherwise be slashed grass we hope the hay will be distributed locally and bring a small amount of relief to our farmers,” said Gunnedah Shire Council Mayor Jamie Chaffey.

Council is also resolving to offer 52 movie tickets at the local theatre to go in packages to drought-affected farmers and has a hardship policy to help those in need of further support, Clr Chaffey told Government News.

Last month the council also donated 2.2 mega litters of non-potable water to the community that came from the testing of a new pool upgrade.

Gunnadah Mayor Jamie Chaffey has called on metropolitan councils to partner with drought-affected sister councils.

Gunnedah also says that its sister city, Sydney’s Lane Cove Council, has made contact and made clear it intends to assist with drought relief. The two councils are now in discussions to determine what assistance can be provided.

Clr Chaffey called on other councils to partner with drought-affected sister councils to help combat the impact of drought.

“That’s the message I’d like to get to city councils. If you have a sister city relationship with a country council, get in contact, ask how you can help. If you don’t have one, get on the phone and find one.”

Clr Chaffey also said he’s been humbled by the willingness of local residents to help those affected by drought, with 23 per cent of the community part of a volunteer group.

Rate relief, provision of water

In Queensland, local government officials say that while the state’s drought is patchier than NSW, some councils have been drought declared since 2014.

Several local governments in the state have been providing assistance to drought-affected farmers and agricultural communities through various forms of rates relief or deferral, Queensland officials say.

Some NSW councils are ramping up water saving measures, offering to provide water free of charge for stock and domestic use to drought-affected farmers.

Data indicating the severity of drought in the four months to July 2018.

Lithgow City Council will be making water available at half price to affected farmers within the LGA, while Tamworth Council is set to vote on such a measure on Tuesday.

The City of Sydney will also be moving a motion on Monday to encourage communities to plan holidays in regional NSW to boost local economies.

‘Working hard’

Linda Scott, president of Local Government NSW, told Government News that numerous councils across NSW are providing relief.

“From Goulburn-Mulwaree to Gilgandra, our NSW Councils are working hard to support their resilient communities to thrive under challenging environmental circumstances,” she said.

Councillor Linda Scott
Clr Linda Scott

Councils have an invaluable role to play in helping communities and farmers through the drought, Clr Scott said.

“Councils are the most trusted level of government and can act as important advocates for their communities to state and federal governments to ensure residents get what they need, as well as providing important services.”

Federal relief

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Commonwealth announced additional financial support to help affected farmers and their communities.

Changes to the Farm Household Allowance scheme would provide two lump sum payments worth up to $12,000 for eligible households.

The government announced it was making it easier to qualify for the FHA by increasing the net asset threshold cap from $2.6 million to $5 million.

However, the government was criticised for separating the financial relief into separate payments, to be processed in September and March.

A $190 million package of immediate relief measures also included additional support for mental health services and community organisations.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that “further longer-term measures to improve the resilience of rural communities to handle drought conditions” are being developed across government in response to the issues raised during a “listening tour” of NSW and Queensland in early June.

“Another phase of the government’s drought support will be announced in coming weeks,” the Prime Minster said.

If you have been affected by this story:

  • Lifeline  13 11 14
  • beyondblue support service 1300 22 4636

To donate to drought relief:

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