Shires join forces on drought

EAST Gippsland and Wellington Shire councils have endorsed their Gippsland Drought Response Proposal – Looking Ahead.

The document details a joint advocacy plan between the two councils to the Victorian and federal governments for drought assistance and recovery into the future.

In response to the drought, both councils have established and engaged industry reference groups, which have provided the councils with a clear picture of the day-to-day struggles of those severely affected by the drought.

The councils also acknowledge that the effects of this drought spread a lot further than just those farming the land.

The loss of agricultural economic activity also has implications more broadly into local business communities.

As a result, the Looking Ahead document proposes a three-tier approach to further engagement with the Victorian and Commonwealth governments – transition, recovery and adaption.

East Gippsland Shire council mayor Natalie O’Connell said both councils had been involved in successful advocacy on behalf of their primary producers resulting in funding for local events, water infrastructure, supporting grants for community initiatives and implementing the federal government drought package.

“While the immediate effects are now being felt, it will take years for our communities to fully recover,” Cr O’Connell said.

“That is why it was important for Wellington and East Gippsland shires to come together and plan how we are going to manage this advocacy past the drought and into the recovery of this drought.

“Our communities are looking ahead and reassessing the way they do things in our changing climate. We need to do the same.”

Wellington Shire Council mayor Alan Hall said Looking Ahead detailed how councils would communicate the needs of their communities to the Victorian and federal governments.

“We propose the need for transition programs for those who either choose or have no choice other than to transition away from agriculture,” Cr Hall said.

“We will also require recovery programs to help manage the impacts on farm and reduce off-farm impacts for the community

“Adaption programs will also assist the communities to explore better pathways for agriculture in a changed climate.”

Wellington and East Gippsland shire councils will continue to work together and with other relevant agencies and partners towards a future that drives opportunity and positivity in the agriculture sector.

Cr Malcolm Hole said farmers struggling through the drought would need long term help as well as immediate assistance in many areas, including pasture recovery, and in extreme cases, help to transition away from farming.

But, “the rains will come,” he said.

“And farmers will need fertiliser, grass, and lime, but the funds in the bank are pretty low.”

Cr Hole said the effects of the drought would be felt long term in the shire.

“Once breeding starts, it will take at least five years to get stock numbers up,” he said.

In a raft of recommendations, a council officer’s report states the state government was being asked to provide financial support for councils to coordinate local forums, community and individual support now and through five years of recovery.

It also noted the drought was likely to break with flood, which would create additional hardship.

The officer’s report indicated councils had a major role to play in assistance, and local government areas were best placed to “facilitate improved adaption pathways” for local areas.

It noted the 1997-98 drought and flood response in the Omeo Region was evaluated by Sinclair Knight Merz, recommending a strategic planning approach for assisting local communities.

“The funding requirement for this approach will depend on the scale and number of local communities selected. As an indicator $250k per annum per local government area over three years would be a start point”, the report stated.

It recommended the government consider supporting a $10 million water infrastructure grants scheme in the Lindenow Valley to assist access to available (winter fill) water in the Mitchell River.