Scenic Rim council joins plea for drought assistance

THIRSTY: The dams are dry, the land is parched and Scenic Rim has been drought declared since May but council is ineligible to apply for federal funding under the Commonwealth's Drought Communities Programme. Photo: Brian Williams
THIRSTY: The dams are dry, the land is parched and Scenic Rim has been drought declared since May but council is ineligible to apply for federal funding under the Commonwealth's Drought Communities Programme. Photo: Brian Williams

SCENIC Rim Regional Council has added its voice to a submission seeking an extension of commonwealth government drought funding while federal MP Scott Buchholz has assured farmers that help is at hand.

A submission by the Local Government Association of Queensland to the Australian Local Government Association pointed out that although the region had been drought-declared since May it was not eligible to apply for funding under the commonwealth's Drought Communities Programme.

Mayor Greg Christensen said agriculture was the biggest industry in the Scenic Rim which, together with tourism, contributed $630 million to the regional economy and was part of the region's identity.

"Agriculture, forestry and fishing comprise 25.9 per cent of all total registered businesses in the Scenic Rim compared with 9.2 per cent across Queensland, which reinforces the level of potential impact the drought has on the region," he said.

"Programmes such as this should have a mechanism where local government areas that are drought-declared can be deemed eligible to apply for funding."

Federal member for Wright Scott Buchholz said the DCP was not the only avenue for seeking federal drought assistance and encouraged farmers to contact his office if they were struggling.

"The Drought Communities Program provides funding to eligible councils based on a number of metrics, including previous rainfall deficiency mapping and is one program within our broader drought response package," he said.

"The government stands with our drought affected communities and is continuing to progress our drought response. We are providing direct assistance in the form of the Farm Household Allowance, Rural Financial Counselling and Drought Loans. If any local farmers are experiencing difficulties or are in need of assistance with their applications I urge them to contact my office.

Cr Christensen said the program in its current format seemed to lack crucial elements of funding eligibility, such as for programs to build community resilience, develop strategies for sustainable farming practices and identify and support mental health issues in the community caused by the drought.

"Scenic Rim is a rural/regional community but being located in South East Queensland and close to large metropolitan centres also places our community at a geographical disadvantage as we are not eligible for many rural funding programs," he said.

"Council has received a lot of feedback, particularly from farmers, on how difficult it is to access financial support. The process is often onerous and complex, which discourages members of the community from seeking support.

"Scenic Rim has many secondary businesses that rely on primary agri-business for survival and these businesses - companies which truck stock and deal in farm machinery and rural produce - are not considered for funding.

"Loss of income through reduced spending from farming communities then flows on to others in the commercial sector."

As part of its 2019-20 Budget, council said it had reviewed its rates assistance and relief offered to eligible drought-affected landholders, including discretionary extensions of up to three months for approved applicants to receive their rates discount.

"While we have had requests for consideration on rates relief matters including concessions, council has to be considerate of all ratepayers and the challenges they face coupled with council's obligation to maintain infrastructure and services to provide economic stability," Cr Christensen said.

Mr Buchholz invited Scenic Rim council to take part in consultation with the federal government.

"Recently we passed through the Parliament the necessary legislation to develop the Future Drought Fund," he said.

"The Future Drought Fund will grow to be worth $5 billion to support rural and regional communities, delivering infrastructure projects and helping to improve environmental and natural resource management on farms."

"I invite all stakeholders in the region to contribute to the consultation on the Future Drought Fund, including council, to be part of the process and develop a plan on how the funding is best invested to support farmers and growers in our region.

"I look forward to working with the council to advocate on behalf of local farmers and growers in this time of drought, including advocating for further rounds of DCP as new councils become eligible."