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Government taken to task on drought preparation

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Upper Hunter MP Dave Layzell believes there should be “less talk, more action” when it comes to drought preparation.

The local member, along with the Shadow Minister for Water Steph Cooke, is taking the NSW Government to task over its lack of foresight as hot, dry weather tightens its grip on the state.

As of last month, more than 30% of NSW was suffering some form of drought.

And, that figure’s predicted to rise rapidly as summer approaches.

Mr Layzell raised the worrying situation with NSW Nationals Leader and Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Regional NSW Dugald Saunders in July.

“We met with farmers at Rouchel, Scone, Singleton and Merriwa,” he said.

“Many were struggling in winter when they told us they were slipping back into drought and needed government to be across the situation.

“I have been calling for the Minister for Agriculture (Tara Moriarty) to come to the Upper Hunter electorate but, in the meantime, the countryside’s been ablaze with fires scorching farms at Scone, Baerami, Ravensworth and Bretti.”

Mr Layzell and Ms Cooke stated they were both alarmed by the Minister for Water Rose Jackson’s recent stance on the matter.

“By her own admission, she has a ‘significant’ role to play in the government’s response to this looming crisis,” the latter said.

“And, yet the best she could come up with when asked what the plan going forward is… was that agency meetings have kicked off and the public service has been briefed.

“It appears Labor’s approach to this emerging disaster is drought preparation by committee.

“At the moment, they’re just sitting around talking about it.”

The pair believes several questions need to be answered… now.

“Where is the targeted support? Where are the rural support workers and financial counselling services?” Mr Layzell said.

“What about rural resilience programs, and skills and training subsidies?

“We’ve known these dry conditions have been coming for months; the government should have had a plan in place a long time ago,” Ms Cooke added.

“Not only does the government not seem to have a drought preparation and support plan in place for our rural and regional communities, the Minister said the government has all but abandoned the vital Safe and Secure Water Program, which was set up by the previous Coalition to assist critical water infrastructure in towns and villages in rural and regional areas, to help safeguard against shortages in dry periods like this.

“While we were in government, we announced about $2 billion worth of drought support in the form of highly-successful initiatives like the Farm Innovation Fund.

“It was a vital program to help regional communities survive difficult times like drought.

“At a time when the risk to water supply and security is becoming more acute by the day, the Minister’s cavalier approach to everything is deeply concerning.

“Unlike the current government, we stood in solidarity with our farmers and rural and regional communities.

“We knew what needed to be done.”

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