Revocation of drought status in Flinders questioned by mayor McNamara

Sally Gall
By Sally Gall
May 14 2022 - 4:00am
The state of the country at Abbotsford this week, which has had well below its average wet season rain. The creeks filling the three dams on the property have not run this summer. Pictures supplied.

Flinders Shire Council Mayor Jane McNamara has questioned the Queensland government's rationale behind revoking the drought status of the remaining portion of the northern shire.

Agriculture Minister Mark Furner announced on Thursday that the declared part of the Flinders shire, plus six other shires had been taken off the drought list, meaning the amount of the state in drought had fallen below 50 per cent for the first time in nine years.

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The first Cr McNamara knew of the decision was when she was asked by the media to comment.

"The last rain rectified the situation for some but it doesn't rain grass," Cr McNamara said.

"No-one on the council had input to this decision, and our rural lands officer wasn't consulted.

"Even the local DAF officer didn't know about it.

"My message to the community was, we were not consulted, and I think it's too presumptive and too soon."

The shires that are still officially drought declared.

Using her home sheep and cattle property, Abbotsford, located on the Flinders Highway west of Hughenden, as an example, Cr McNamara said they'd had half their average summer rainfall.

"We had early rain in November but then it was a failed wet - we had four inches at home for the whole season," she said. "We were saved by the latest rain this week but you don't know what the grass response will be."

Cr McNamara said driving along the Winton-Hughenden Road could give onlookers a false sense of how much feed was available, and while those on the Muttaburra Road had had a wet season, much of it was from a heavy 200mm event, a lot of which had run off.

"And then the grasshoppers came out" she said. "Even at the northern part of the shire that was taken off the drought list in 2019, the council is planning how to get enough water for roadworks, it's been so dry," she said.

"For some, it's their first good wet season in 10 years, and I think 45 per cent in drought is a false picture.

"I'd just like to sit down with the local drought committee and have a discussion about how to go forward."

The McNamaras have had good relief rain on an additional area 60km south of Hughenden, which they will be relying on to see them through to the end of the year.

Mr Furner replied, saying that the local drought committee, which consisted of local graziers and members with specific knowledge of local conditions, had recommended the revocation of the drought status for the rest of the Flinders Shire, which he had acted on.

"The confidential Local Drought Committee process ensures that decisions are made based on rainfall, pasture conditions and other local factors," he said. "These are not political decisions."

Individual primary producers can apply for an Individual Droughted Property Declaration if they are continuing to experience drought conditions.

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Mr Furner said the government's reforms to drought assistance programs meant producers do not need to be in a drought declared area to access assistance such as grants and low-interest loans for drought preparedness.

Assistance measures to go

The Drought Relief Assistance Scheme, which is being phased out, facilitates five assistance measures while an area or property is drought declared, and two assistance measures after the drought declaration is revoked.

Primary producers with a property that is drought declared may be eligible for:

  • freight subsidies for transporting fodder
  • freight subsidies for transporting water
  • Permanent tree cropping, which provides a rebate on the cost of dam desilting or bore drilling (a federal government rebate)
  • Dam desilting rebate, which provides a rebate on the cost of desilting a dam (a federal government rebate), and
  • the emergency water infrastructure rebate, which provides a rebate on the purchase and installation of water infrastructure installed for emergency animal welfare needs.

Two other areas of assistance that cut out once drought is revoked include the Drought Relief from Electricity Charges Scheme, and land rent and water licence waivers.

The former provides relief from supply charges on electricity accounts that are used to pump water for farm or irrigation purposes, for those whose access to water is not available or severely restricted.

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Holders of rural leases are eligible for a rebate of 18 per cent of their annual rent where that is more than $277.00, and fees associated with an annual water licence invoice and applications for stock or domestic water licences are waived in either a drought declared area or IDP.

Producers with a property that has had its drought declaration revoked may be eligible for:

  • freight subsidies for transporting livestock returning from agistment
  • freight subsidies for transporting livestock purchased for restocking.

The maximum amount available under the DRAS is initially a total of $20,000 per property, per financial year.

If producers reach the $20,000 limit for their property, they can apply to extend the limit up to $50,000 depending on the length of time the property has been in drought.

To do this, they need to prepare a drought management plan for the property and have it endorsed by a DAF officer.

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Drought-declared producers can choose to continue accessing DRAS support or transition to the new measures.

Once they access the new measures, they cannot go back to DRAS, which will be phased out as local government areas come out of drought.

'If the suit fits'

Apart from Flinders, the other shire drought revocations were all in southern Queensland - Balonne, Maranoa, Murweh, Quilpie, North Burnett and Western Downs.

Murweh mayor Shaun 'Zoro' Radnedge said that "if the suit fits, you've got to wear it".

"It's probably one of the best 18 months out here that we've had for a long time," he said, adding that he was still gauging the repercussions for his shire.

"I'd like to know more about the pros and cons before I say more about it," he said.

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ALSO MAKING NEWS:

Sally Gall

Sally Gall

Senior journalist - Queensland Country Life/North Queensland Register

Based at Blackall, CW Qld, where I've raised a family, run Merino sheep and beef cattle, and helped develop a region - its history, tourism, education and communications.

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