The drought in Gippsland has worsened considerably over the past two weeks, according to the Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester.
Mr Chester told Federal Parliament that strong winds had carried away precious top soil in areas including Giffard and McGaurans Beach, which he visited with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack just a fortnight ago.
“Farmers are watching their prized asset – their topsoil – blowing away before their eyes. There is a sense of helplessness and frustration as well as they recognise the very severe economic consequences for their own financial situation and the environmental consequences for their properties,” Mr Chester said.
“The drought is also having a huge social impact on communities across Gippsland in areas like Giffard, Stradbroke and McGaurans Beach; further east around Briagolong, Bengworden and Meerlieu to Orbost, and into the high country in places like Ensay, Swifts Creek and Dargo.”
Mr Chester said farmers, some of whom were enduring some of the driest conditions for a century, believed Gippsland’s drought was the forgotten drought.
“I’ve got to say to the people of Gippsland: we haven’t forgotten you in this place, and I certainly haven’t forgotten you,” Mr Chester said. “We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to support our farmers as much as possible to ensure they’re viable in the longer term.
“Drought is the most exhausting and insidious of natural disasters. It erodes at the hope of the farming community. Every sunny day, every windy day, every dry day, it’s corrosive throughout the community as it takes away from people’s confidence in the future.”
Mr Chester said farming families were concerned that people who secured off-farm income to improve their farm’s viability then found it difficult to access drought support initiatives.
“This is an issue I’ve raised with the Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister in the past and will continue to do so in the future,” Mr Chester said.
Mr Chester also said he was concerned the people most in need of assistance were not getting it.
“The bureaucracy and red tape we put in the road of people when they’re already in difficult circumstances undermines the value of the funding that’s already been announced,” Mr Chester said.
“When people are at their most vulnerable, when they’re struggling with the economic and social challenges that go with drought, they’re not in the best place to be filling out piles of paperwork.”