The committee commenced this inquiry in November 2019 at a time when Australia was experiencing severe droughts—including the driest November across Australia on record. Despite the recent rain that some parts of Australia have received, the drought is far from over and recovery will take many years. On top of this, bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic have brought added challenges to rural and regional communities already under pressure.
In delivering this report, the committee has reviewed the Australian Government’s drought response and identified a number of gaps that could be addressed to improve the ability of farmers, farm businesses and regional communities to withstand the impacts of drought and be prepared for and capable of managing through the next drought. These gaps include:
- restrictive eligibility criteria that exclude a number of business structures and many other people needing support;
- burdensome application processes which discourage individuals from accessing drought support;
- unclear communication about available drought support and how to access it, which impacts individuals' ability to access appropriate support; and
- reactive provision of some support during drought.
These issues cut across the suite of drought programs and measures. The committee has made several recommendations to enhance transparency, streamline application processes, ensure consistency of program design and eligibility criteria and improve communication and information sharing practices.
This report addresses the committee's terms of reference and comprises seven chapters, including this introductory chapter, with the remaining chapters set out as follows:
- Chapter 2 provides a brief outline of Australian Government drought policy. It also considers the definition of drought, its impacts and the rationale for government spending in relation to drought.
- Chapter 3 evaluates preparedness support and summarises the various views on the effectiveness of this approach. It also considers evidence received in relation to the Future Drought Fund and opportunities for improvement.
- Chapter 4 outlines evidence received in relation to drought support for farmers and farm businesses and opportunities for improvement.
- Chapter 5 examines drought support for wider communities affected by drought and opportunities for improvement.
- Chapter 6 addresses evidence received in relation to other issues, such as the coordination of drought policy and measures and evaluation and review of drought support.
- Chapter 7 examines evidence received in relation to water management.