Drought

The Coordinator-General for Drought the Hon Shane Stone AC QC and the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency (the Agency) has undertaken two complementary reviews of the Australian Government’s approach to assisting those impacted by, recovering from or preparing for the next drought: the Review of the Australian Government Drought Response and the 2019-20 Implementation Report on the Drought Response, Resilience and Preparedness Plan.

The Government’s drought package comprises 25 measures that commit more than $10 billion toward drought response, recovery and preparedness since 2018-19. The measures are delivered across 11 Australian Government departments and agencies, and have evolved over time to address feedback and findings from review and evaluation processes. As part of the Agency’s strategic leadership and coordination role, these two reviews provided an opportunity to look at the Government’s drought package as a whole, and to ensure that the measures are delivered in a coordinated and effective way.

The Agency’s approach has been to ‘turn up, listen and act’. By listening to people’s experiences, the Agency has been able to hear directly what drought support is working well and what needs improvement. We have not assumed to know what works best for regional people and communities.

Drought is an enduring, recurring feature of the Australian landscape. The reviews show the significant commitment and positive impacts the Government’s measures have had on drought impacted farmers, communities and small businesses. The reviews also demonstrate the Government’s desire for continuous improvement.

The reviews have highlighted opportunities for improvement in the delivery, design and evaluation of drought programs – such as the consistency and complexity of eligibility criteria and ease of access to information about the support available. Work is already underway to address concerns raised in the reports.

For example, the Agency is already driving opportunities to better communicate drought assistance at a local level through the Agency’s Regional Recovery Officer (RRO) network. The RRO network already has 21 officers on-the-ground, working with farmers, councils and communities. Plans are also underway to recruit an additional two officers.

To address concerns raised in relation to access to information to support business planning and risk management activities, the Agency is enhancing the National Drought Map, an online tool that brings together climate, spatial and population data, as well as information about available government assistance. The Agency is currently building the capability of the mapping tool to provide impacted communities with real-time, high quality information on more drought-related services.

The Agency is also already working to address issues raised around eligibility for drought programs and is undertaking work in conjunction with a range of other collaborators. Part of this work will include developing a more consistent approach to defining when regions move into, and out of, drought. This includes enhancing climatic, social and economic indicators that can help guide eligibility for drought support programs. Generating a suite of indicators that can better guide policy makers will, in turn, create better targeted programs that support our farmers, communities and regional industries.

In regard to issues raised around the Regional Investment Corporation, in July 2020 the Government announced additional funding that will help to address concerns around processing wait times.

In regard to oversubscription of the On-farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme, the Government has committed an additional $50 million under the scheme as part of the 2020-21 Budget.

Also in the Budget, the Government has provided the Agency with a further 12 months of funding for this important drought work, to continue the strategic leadership and coordination of the drought response right across the country.

The Agency will continue to monitor and improve the timely, effective and coordinated delivery of assistance to Australians impacted by drought, and to prepare for future droughts. Working collaboratively with affected groups provides opportunities to better design, coordinate and deliver effective initiatives, while also helping communities better position themselves and respond to future droughts. In 2021, the Agency will partner with the National Farmers’ Federation to deliver a National Drought Forum which will provide the opportunity to identify further ideas for the future of our nation’s approach to managing through, recovering from, and preparing for drought.