Turnbull drought tour: NFF president Fiona Simson's views

DRY TIMES: At Trangie, farmers Phil and Ashlea Miles and son Jack met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Parkes MP Mark Coulton, among others. Photo: Belinda Soole
DRY TIMES: At Trangie, farmers Phil and Ashlea Miles and son Jack met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Parkes MP Mark Coulton, among others. Photo: Belinda Soole

THE Turnbull drought tour has been blasted as a “farce” and a “PR exercise” by some on the land, but the president of Australia’s peak farming body has said it was a valuable and welcome effort.

The so-called “listening tour” wrapped up last week after three days of visits to some of the most drought-affected areas in NSW and Qld.

National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson accompanied the Prime Minister and other politicians on the NSW leg.

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“In my time in advocacy, I haven’t seen another PM do it; most have hopped on a plane, made an announcement and flown out,” she said.

“For the PM to have spent three or four days in cars, in planes, out on farms, talking to farmers, talking to people in community meetings, listening, carefully noting down information – I think it’s a really great thing to our community.”

The tour took in Dubbo, Trangie, Narromine, Blackall, Charleville and Boulia.

Measures should ‘help everybody’

Mrs Simson, a Liverpool Plains farmer, said she’d been able to advocate “a little” for back home, but “whatever happens to other regions will hopefully have flow-on benefits for us, anyway”.

“The difficult thing with drought is trying to put in place measures to help everybody, whether they're grain growers or livestock farmers or horticulturalists, for that matter,” she said.

She said some issues discussed had been more transparent drought mapping; mental health and business help; and Farm Household Allowance hurdles.

“That’s the main one people depend on when they get quite desperate; when they have to put food on table or tyres on the car,” she said.

“It’s a very complicated agreement to fill in, and the assets and income tests make it quite difficult to access.

“We want to make sure those sorts of measures are available to people … without too much difficulty.”

Subsidies ‘not a silver bullet’

Many have called for fodder freight subsidies, but Mrs Simson said there were “pros and cons”.

“They clearly mostly benefit livestock producers and it’s not just them that are suffering in the drought; we’re going to see people who aren’t going to be able to plant any winter crops shortly start to hit the wall as well,” she said.

“We think it’s helpful, but just as one of the tools, because … it’s not a silver bullet.

“It’s not going to help everybody and we just need to be aware it can have adverse effects on the price of fodder and freight; we could see that exponentially increase.

“As a farmers’ advocacy group, we have a guarded response to that because we can see both sides.”

Overall, Mrs Simson said she felt the PM showed genuine concern for the sector and what measures could be put in place to assist.

“I think farmers are really supporting each other and that’s a great thing to do when times are tough, but we also look to government to do what they can do as well,” she said.

“The difficult thing is finding solutions and tools for people that are going to help the most people and help them not just make the best decisions now, when it’s difficult, but also to prepare for inevitably dry times.”