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CWA infuriated by Federal Government's 'disrespectful' drought grants program

By national rural reporter Kath Sullivan, Friday February 21, 2020 - 20:03 EDT
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Tanya Cameron has been left angry after the latest grant announcement. - ABC licensed

The Country Women's Association (CWA) has slammed the Federal Government over its drought assistance, describing the latest funding announcement as "disappointing, infuriating, insulting and disrespectful".

On Thursday, Drought Minister David Littleproud announced the Commonwealth would provide $5 million to the CWA "to provide vouchers of up to $500 to farming households experiencing hardship due to the drought".

But the CWA said despite repeatedly seeking more federal funding for its drought programs since September, it only learned of the voucher announcement on Wednesday evening.

"It was a total disregard, it's disrespectful ... it would have been nice to have been consulted," national president Tanya Cameron said.

"It's very disappointing. It's actually infuriating. It's very annoying. I'm really quite angry.

"It's quite insulting and it's disrespectful to an organisation that has been around as long as ours has."

The CWA has written to the Government to say it will not be participating in the outreach program as it is currently proposed.

It said its state branches did not support the process of administering $500 vouchers at public events, such as barbecues or roadshows, as they understood the Government intended.

"We've explained to the Federal Government on a number of occasions very clearly why, for NSW, the vouchers don't work," CWA NSW chief executive Danica Leys said.

"I don't think the provision of assistance in this way should be tied to having to attend an event to get it."

In New South Wales, the CWA has distributed more than $16 million of drought aid in recent years, directly depositing funding in the recipients' bank accounts.

"People are given the dignity and respect to make the decision they need to make," Ms Leys said of the CWA system.

"Obviously someone in the federal bureaucracy thinks they know better how to get it out.

"If they know how to get it out, then they should perhaps think about doing it themselves before verballing us and telling us that they're partnering with us.

Ms Ley said there were many questions around the logistics of how people would get the vouchers.

"We absolutely support further investment into drought-affected communities, and vouchers can be helpful for some people, but a $500 voucher at the outset is quite minimal in nature," she said.

"That is not what is needed ... not to sound ungrateful, but more than that is needed."

Farmers forced to find other income

Narromine farmer Susie Rae said she and her husband had been forced to find off-farm work during the drought and that a voucher would not go far to help.

"You've got to understand we have a lot of expenses on a farm, so it really doesn't go that far," she said.

"It would go to bills. It would just go to the service you have done on your car or your ute, or maybe the tyres on a car."

As part of Thursday's announcement, the Government said it would also provide $5 million to Rotary to provide the vouchers, but it was not clear where or how they would be spent or administered.

A spokesman for the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Recovery Agency said the details of the Drought Community Outreach Program were being finalised.

He added that the agency was "looking forward to working through the details of both the outreach activities and the vouchers" with the CWA and Rotary.

"Now that the funding has been announced, we can commence more detailed consultation and engagement," the spokesman said.

"Vouchers have been proven to be a very popular and successful initiative utilised by numerous non-government organisations and government agencies following disasters — it's tried and proven."

'Over and above what's required'

The CWA said it approached Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in September to seek an extension to the funding, which is provided through the infrastructure portfolio.

Earlier this month Ms Cameron wrote to Mr McCormack to say she found the funding situation "extremely frustrating", and that the CWA had gone "over and above what was required in the ad-hoc grant agreement".

"Our volunteers and staff have worked diligently to do the Government's bidding on what is a minimal percentage of the total funds we have distributed to date," the letter said.

"Our only concern is for those people who continue to battle the worst drought on record and to ensure we continue to have funds available to help support them."

Mr McCormack's office referred the ABC to Mr Littleproud for a response.

Mr Littleproud's office referred the ABC to Mr McCormack's office.

After publication, a spokeswoman for Mr McCormack said the Deputy Prime Minister had a "number of discussions with the CWA president" during the summer.

"Minister Littleproud as Minister for Drought will be responsible for administering the funding in due course," the spokeswoman said.


© ABC 2020

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