Coordinator-General Shane Stone, Advisory Board member Don Heatley OAM and Agency staff were back on the road last week. The team headed into southern Queensland and far western, western and northern NSW drought zones, where rainfall has been well below average for many years.
As the team travelled through Goondiwindi, Moree, Bourke, Walgett, Coonamble, Bingara, Inverell, Narrabri, Tenterfield, Stanthorpe and Esk, they heard from local communities about the impact of drought on their daily lives and many views on how all levels of government can work together to best support people in regional and rural Australia. The countryside is certainly very dry and in desperate need of meaningful rain. While families and communities are bearing up, their resilience is being tested.
The first stop was Goondiwindi, where the Coordinator-General and his team met with more than 30 representatives across small business, health, local government and primary production. Organised by Mayor Graham Scheu, these conversations helped Shane and his team understand the local impacts of the drought and resulting challenges.
As the trip continued through North-West, Western and Far Western NSW, it was saddening to see the countryside struggling. However, it was equally heartening to meet people who are supporting each other through these difficult times.
Throughout the trip, it was encouraging to hear about the effectiveness of $1 million Drought Communities Programme funding. Councils are using this money to build much-needed local projects, while retaining skilled workers and maintaining their employment base.
On the way through the Northern Tablelands, the team visited Bingara, Inverell and Tenterfield, experiencing rain along the way. It was enjoyable to be driving through decent falls in the Glen Innes to Tenterfield area. While this does not end drought for these areas, it did bring some joy.
The last leg of the journey was through the Granite Belt town of Stanthorpe and then on to Esk. Stanthorpe’s experience with drought is more recent than many parts of NSW and Queensland. However, its impact has been severe. Southern Downs Regional Council Mayor Tracy Dobie, told the team about the area’s dire shortage of drinking water, as well as the various water infrastructure projects that are either underway or being considered.
The trip confirmed that this drought is not a single issue with one potential solution. With the sense of urgency this situation warrants, Coordinator-General Shane Stone and Agency staff will bring together everyone involved with supporting people and communities to make sure there is no unnecessary duplication and no gaps. When it comes to drought, the Agency’s guiding principle is "Work together. Simplify. Act."
These regional towns are determined not to be defined by drought; instead to be seen as vibrant communities that offer an attractive and affordable lifestyle. Their recovery from this drought and preparedness for the next one is in the national interest – we are all in this together.