Graziers are culling livestock, shops and businesses are closing down and at least one town is likely to run dry within months as the drought crisis in Queensland worsens. The impact of years without sufficient rain, and the passing of another dry summer, is being felt not only in the agriculture sector but also across dozens of regional economies, some of which have felt the added impact of the mining slowdown. For many primary producers, recent scattered rain has done little to improve the outlook, and there are concerns that even well-meaning charity and relief packages have taken business from local stores. Of the 77 council areas in Queensland, 44 are drought-declared, triggering some support from governments but nothing compared with the relief funding that follows cyclones, floods and bushfires. Unlike other natural disasters, drought is slow torture, requiring a prolonged change in the weather to treat and rehabilitate. The Australian has learned some Coalition MPs believe the situation is so dire Tony Abbott should establish a ministerial taskforce to save drought-affected communities. The Nationals’ whip in the Senate, Barry O’Sullivan, declined to discuss any private deliberations yesterday but said he personally believed the drought had “gone past the crisis point”. “I genuinely fear for the future of so many communities west of the Great Divide,” the Queensland LNP senator said yesterday. For grazier John Wallace, recent meagre rain was more trouble than it was worth. Not only did the rain not replenish the dams on his 7700ha property, Walkcege, near Hughenden, it arrived in such a short, violent downpour that it washed valuable dry grass away. Then the grasshoppers turned up and ate the remaining fodder. “This is the third year of drought,” said Mr Wallace, who has been on that property since the 1970s and runs 1500 head of cattle. “We had three good years before that, and a 10-year drought before that. “My cattle are not dying, but they are starting to eat timber, which means they’ve got about a month.” Mr Wallace said he would be forced to sell all but a 100-strong breeding herd in the next month to prevent beasts dying of thirst or starvation. Longreach Mayor Joe Owens said grazing families in the region, of around 4300 people, were suffering but the knock-on effect was felt across the community as businesses came under pressure and employment dried up. While relief packages were being sent from cities and larger centres, and were gratefully received, Mr Owens said they could also exacerbate the impact on local shops desperate for such business. The council will next week hold a town meeting to determine how and where such support should be sent. “When the drought does break, we’re still going to need those shops and those services to support the community,” Mr Owens said. Senator O’Sullivan said if Longreach, as he had been told, had businesses experiencing turnover down by 40 to 60 per cent, and school numbers were down by more than 100 as local families left town, then smaller communities were even worse off. “We’re facing a financial cliff here and the smaller communities have already gone over it,” he said. Mr Owens said Ilfracombe would likely run out of drinking water within months and the emergency bore, put down over 100 years ago, was no longer capable of saving the town.
This article first appeared The Australian, 1 April 2015.