Drought Program Review submission: RAPAD outlines need for major rethink

An economic development body in outback Queensland has told the state government a major rethink is needed to improve how the state prepares for and supports rural economies and communities before, during and after drought.

The Remote Area Planning and Development Board in central western Queensland has submitted a report to the Queensland Drought Program Review.   The report highlights a need for government to change its reaction to drought, how it assists communities and businesses around drought and offers solutions to fix a broken system.

“The future of the region largely depends on what Government, RAPAD, business and the community do now.  Things must change, ‘more of the same’ or ‘business as usual’ is simply not an option,” RAPAD Chairman Rob Chandler said.    

“We are painfully aware the review cannot make the rain fall but it is an opportunity to put forward new ways to rapidly encourage social and economic growth of the RAPAD communities to sustain the region in these lean times and for the long run,” Councillor Chandler said.

All seven councils of the RAPAD region have been fully drought declared since 2014, the communities within the region are currently experiencing the worst drought in its history. 

“Record temperatures, and minimal rain events are combining to create devastating outcomes for primary producers, businesses and communities.  

“Huge reductions in livestock numbers due to continued failed summers have resulted in limited to zero cash flow for businesses, and a significant decrease in their equity positions due to increasing debt levels, decreasing livestock numbers and reduced land valuations,” he said.

Because the response to drought is critical to this region, RAPAD have engaged economic expert Dr Mark McGovern to listen to the community and apply his deep understanding and experience in economics, finance, government, trade and rural industries to develop our considered feedback and provide robust solutions.

Dr McGovern’s investigation has found that drought has highlighted underlying

(sectoral and regional) imbalances and policy deficiencies (enterprise, industry and govt) so he concludes foundational problems not symptoms need to be addressed.

“Essentially, we have had a long period of capital run down (human, physical, financial and the like) due to negative economic profits across agricultural sectors and rebalancing of government policies in ways that discriminated against rural and remote areas, compounded by naive competition policies and denial of trade realities and theories,” Dr McGovern said.

“Much can be done to restore financial/economic/societal viability but continuing approaches, policies and “quick fix” thinking that lead to today’s problems will not solve anything,” he said.

Dr McGovern says we need to work together to:

•            sustain key capacities

•            care for people affected

•            identify and agree key problems

•            act responsively, insightfully and prudently

•            refresh our perceptions, wisdoms and consciousness

•            avoid crises, feckless losses and needless destruction of capitals

•            reposition our policies and procedures to optimise real realisable returns on resources

Actively pursuing how we might together meet these goals is the real task at hand.

“Emergency response is important, but on its own is not enough – our communities deserve more.  It needs to be accompanied by deliberate, long-term, strategic and coordinated support, delivered through the whole drought cycle, to help councils, businesses and communities prepare for drought, cope with drought when it is happening, and recover rapidly afterwards,” Dr McGovern said

RAPAD’s submission recommends 10 key actions which can be read in the submission in full including; responding to the economic and personal costs of drought, protecting the rural economy, focussing on a renewable energy future, restoration of zone tax rebate scheme and water reform.

RAPAD thanks the State Government for the opportunity to provide independent, first-hand experience as feedback to the process.  

“What’s needed from here is for government pick up the reins and drive change and look forward to future opportunities to collaborate on building a prosperous future for outback Queensland,” RAPAD Chairman Rob Chandler said.

Download the report here

Download media release PDF here