Change in Federal mindset is a critical step forward in managing drought

Published: 8th November 2019

By Kirsten Pietzner, LGAQ Lead - Resource Sector and Regional Development

The announcement by the Federal Government to provide drought funding to non-farm businesses and more funding for councils in drought-affected regions is a win for communities and councils. It also shows that the LGAQ’s drought advocacy efforts are starting to have an impact on national drought policy.

At the 2018 LGAQ Annual Conference, members passed a resolution calling on the LGAQ to ramp up our advocacy efforts on drought. Since that time, the LGAQ has argued that to improve the preparedness and resilience of communities to drought, the nation’s drought strategy needs to reflect two key themes: drought impacts the whole community and councils play a critical role in leading and supporting their communities to prepare for and manage drought.

These points were laid out in LGAQ submissions and meetings with the then National Drought Coordinator-General, Major-General Stephen Day, and recent Federal Government announcements show we have made some inroads.

The decision to extend drought support to non-farm businesses represents a critical change in mindset in how our national government supports communities when impacted by severe drought. Previously, support has only been available to farm businesses, so making concessional loans and financial counselling available to non-farm businesses is an acknowledgment of just how far-reaching the impacts of drought can be.

Whether these are the right policy settings remains to be seen and the LGAQ will be talking with members to hear their views. Nevertheless, this announcement represents a welcome change in direction in Federal drought policy. The challenge for the LGAQ is to see recognition of the whole-of-community impacts of drought permanently embedded in national drought strategy, policy and programs.

LGAQ advocacy efforts have also made the point strongly that councils are often the major employer in regional and rural towns and that funding to councils can be vital in supporting their economies and communities through drought. The decision by the Federal Government to increase Roads to Recovery funding to councils in drought-affected areas by $138.8 million, as well as prioritising councils in drought-affected regions for the next $200 million round of the Building Better Regions Fund, recognises the critical role that councils play in sustaining local employment and their local economies.

Again, the detail of how this funding can be accessed will be critical and a topic on which the LGAQ will be seeking our members’ feedback. Already, it is of concern to us that funding to drought-affected councils will likely come at the expense of councils in non-drought affected areas, but this argument that will be made at the appropriate time.

While these Federal funding decisions mean we’ve achieved some wins, national and state drought policy is still too ad hoc and piecemeal. For many, this new funding will be too little, too late or end up being misdirected.

Moreover, if we are to be successful in improving community resilience to drought, then Federal and State Governments needs to establish a genuine partnership with local government. While providing drought funding councils is a good start, we are a long way from Federal and State Government recognition and support for councils in leading their communities in planning for and responding to drought.

Looking ahead, the LGAQ has prepared a Queensland Local Government Drought Action Plan that would empower councils, communities and businesses to better prepare for and respond to drought.

When it comes to the impacts on our communities, economy and environment, there should be no distinction between severe drought and natural disasters such as floods and cyclones. As a nation, we need a comprehensive, integrated approach to preparing for and managing all events that severely impact our communities, not just some. Achieving this objective remains the mission of the LGAQ’s drought advocacy efforts.