“Listen, plan, then act,” is the aim of national drought coordinator Major General Stephen Day, who briefly visited Adelaide on Tuesday to talk with South Australian representatives concerned by the tough conditions facing farmers.
Major General Day said he had little previous knowledge of the extent of drought in SA, but he was here to “get the big picture”.
“I am here to listen and learn about where the pain is, what the worst-hit areas are and how that has affected people,” he said.
He is tasked with better coordinating drought relief across the nation and has had to prioritise his meetings in the past few weeks.
“There are some places that have been in drought for six or seven years like Charleville, Qld, – and I haven't even been there – but I felt it was important to come here quickly in the big picture sense, but I’ll be back,” he said.
“We can’t solve all the problems and there are tough decisions for governments, farming communities and farmers, but those problems we can solve, we will.”
Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone invited the national drought coordinator to visit when he was appointed and was pleased he received an overall picture of the situation and had a discussion with a united voice on behalf of SA.
Representatives from drought-affected councils across the state, ranging from Cleve and Goyder to Karoonda East Murray, as well as industry groups Grain Producers SA, Primary Producers SA, Livestock SA and SA Dairyfarmers’ Association, were in attendance.
Cleve council chief executive officer Peter Arnold, said it was a good opportunity to express first-hand what the conditions were across SA.
“The coordinator did express a willingness to come back and out on the ground to view first-hand what the conditions are actually like,” Mr Arnold said.
Goyder council mayor Peter Mattey said while the visit was mostly an “exploratory exercise”, it recognised that farmers in NSW and Qld weren’t the only ones facing the drought.
“Decisions need to be made, mindful of how much it will accelerate the recovery when it does eventually rain,” Mr Mattey said.
On Monday, Mr Whetstone also announced the additional appointment of up to eight Family and Business Support scouts to offer understanding, guidance and support to drought-affected communities.
Mr Whetstone said the scouts would be based near the most affected regions – the upper Eyre Peninsula, Murray Mallee, Upper North and the pastoral district – and would work with Rural Business Support.
RBS CEO Brett Smith welcomed the additional scouts, and said the “more boots on the ground, the better”.
“Our councillors will be working alongside the FaB scouts, giving community members a go-to person that can help direct them to the right support,” he said.
Mr Smith said the rural financial counselling service had seen a 20 per cent increase in the uptake of the service in the past four weeks.
Mr Whetsone said the scouts were implemented during the Millennium Drought in a successful program that he witnessed first-hand.
An extensive fodder audit to help manage short-term needs with long-term planning is also under way and a fodder and donation register will be established to connect fodder with those in need.
Opposition primary industries spokesperson Eddie Hughes said Mr Whetstone had “dragged his heels” by not providing direct financial support to farmers in drought-affected areas.
Mr Whetstone maintained there was financial support available for farmers.
Major General Day said Australians had “seen this movie before”, and that there were “no more inventive, no more resilient and no more efficient farmers than ours”.