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Farmers are demanding answers after NSW drought coordinator sacked

Tim Fookes, Michael Condon and Kim Honan, Thursday November 7, 2019 - 12:50 EDT
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Sacked after 11 months, drought coordinator Jock Laurie operated as a bridge between government and the farming community. - ABC

Only a year into the job and with the drought still gripping New South Wales, the drought coordinator has been sacked, and farmers are demanding answers.

Mr Laurie was appointed to the role in December 2018 by former NSW minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair who described him as a "true friend of farmers."

The position of drought coordinator was established in 2015, with the role seen as advocating the concerns of farmers to the state government.

Mr Laurie, a grazier from Walcha in northern NSW and former president of the National Farmers Federation, was told this week his role would finish up immediately.

State Government establishes new Office of Drought Response

The NSW Government has instead announced the establishment of a new office dedicated to drought.

Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the role of drought coordinator changed after the state election in March.

"I've had no involvement at all with Mr Laurie as his work was under the water portfolio looking at water issues," the minister said.

"The title of drought coordinator actually became a bit of a misnomer, given he wasn't actually coordinating any component of drought."

The pair competed for the National Party's safe state seat of Northern Tablelands in 2013, which Mr Marshall won.

The ABC has approached Jock Laurie for comment, but he has so far has not made any public statement.

Farmers demand answers

The removal of Jock Laurie has come despite the fact, that 97 per cent of NSW has been declared in drought.

Farmers were left surprised at the decision and praised Mr Laurie's achievements in the role, and in his position as the state's Land and Water Commissioner.

NSW Farmers Association president James Jackson said the role of drought coordinator operated as a vital bridge between government and the farming community.

"Jock Laurie has been very available to farmers, and has been out and about the state doing, what must be, a stressful job," Mr Jackson said.

"We think the positions of Drought Coordinator and Land and Water Commissioner are important, and we are looking for the government to show some leadership."

"Unfortunately Jock couldn't make it rain, but his role was essentially an important communication job between farmers and the state government."

Deputy Premier John Barilaro described Mr Laurie's contribution to regional NSW as outstanding.

"Jock Laurie played an important role in helping to lead the immediate response to the drought on behalf of farmers," Mr Barilaro said.

"The impact of the drought has quickly moved beyond the farm gate and spread into regional towns and cities."

Mr Barilaro said the establishment of the dedicated Office of Drought Response will enable increased support for regional communities suffering during this prolonged drought.

"That's why the position of drought coordinator would cease as of Friday."

Sacked during drought

Farming groups across NSW have expressed their concern at the position of drought coordinator being abolished while the state is suffering through drought.

"It is definitely a retrograde step given how well regarded Jock Laurie is in the regional community," lobby group Dairy Connect CEO Shaugn Morgan said.

"Agriculture has lost a friend, the dairy farmers in NSW have lost someone we can call upon for his expertise."

Wingen cattle farmer Rick Wright said he feared Mr Laurie may have been too forthright for "arrogant bureaucrats" to handle.

"I think one of the issues will be that he has spoken his mind, and when you're dealing with an arrogant government it's very difficult to hold your tongue."

Mr Wright would like the position of drought coordinator to be reinstated.

NSW Country Women's Association president Danica Leys said the role of drought coordinator was an important part of the government's response to the drought.

"It's disappointing that this has happened when we're right in the middle of a drought."

"The role meant he had to provide frank and fearless advice to decision makers on drought and a lot of that advice won't be pretty."


© ABC 2019

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