THE Western Downs Local Drought Committee has been spectacularly sacked with the Palaszczuk government claiming it has been compromised following LNP Opposition interference.
Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said he had decided to “refresh” the membership of the Western Downs LDC.
The sackings follows ongoing fall out from Mr Furner’s decision to only partially drought declare the 38,000sq km Western Downs Shire.
"It is my view that the committee process has been manipulated for political gain," Mr Furner told parliament.
"The LDC’s are meant to be free from political influence, to avoid lobbying, and ensure members are free to make unencumbered decisions based on science that will serve the community for the coming 12 months.
"Given that I believe the committee has been compromised, I have instructed the department to relieve the LDC of their duties."
Committee members were advised of their sacking by DAF’s south region director Richard Routley.
The Western Downs Local Drought Committee is chaired by well known Department of Agriculture officer Ross Ballin. Mr Ballin is understood to chair a number of drought committees which are comprised of farmers.
Sacked committee member and Chinchilla graingrower Greg Stanke was adamant there had been no political interference from the LNP.
Only part of Western Downs Shire has been drought declared despite the local drought committee recommending the entire shire be declared.
“We normally have one meeting a year, in April,” said Mr Sankey, who joined the inaugural committee 35 years ago.
“At that meeting the majority said the drought declaration should be revoked. However, we decided to meet again in August because the season had deteriorated so badly.
“We unanimously voted that the whole of Western Downs be again drought declared. “Usually it takes a week to get a decision from the minister. This time it took a month. I guess he didn’t like what we had to say.”
Tony Perrett hits back
LNP Opposition agriculture spokesman Tony Perrett rejected claims there had been interference saying the Western Downs LDC only became aware of its sacking from the minister’s statement in parliament.
“No other representation was made to members prior to that announcement,” Mr Perrett said.
“Of most concern is the fact that Western Downs was only partially declared, despite the fact these was a unanimous consensus among the six local drought committee members present at the committee meeting held on August 21.
“Clearly the minister has blatantly rejected the committee’s recommendation and didn’t like what they had to say because it embarrassed him after what had played out in the media prior, with Ann Leahy (LNP Warrego) calling on the reconvening of the committee.
“Mr Furner clearly did not like what the committee was tell him because it would embarrass him and he did not want to see extra government assistance go to affected farmers. This is nothing short of heartless and reckless.”
Mr Perrett said the Opposition had requested documents and notes from the Western Downs LDC meeting held on August 21 as well as a copy of the briefing note to the minister under the Right to Information Act.
“These will take weeks to come through, but we are determined to get to the truth,” Mr Perrett said.
“The worry is that if the minister can do this to Western Downs, it can do it to any region. Just because the facts say your region is dry and suffering from drought does not meant he minister will extend those communities the courtesy of a drought declaration, even if warranted.”
Western Downs lost its drought status after the drought committee met in April and recommended that the drought status be revoked based on a number of useful rainfall events between October 2017 and March 2018.
“Drought declared producers are able to access Drought Relief Assistance Scheme (DRAS) fodder and water freight subsidies and emergency water infrastructure rebates, as well as access other programs in the Queensland Drought Assistance Package.
“This includes relief from electricity charges, land rent rebates and water licence waivers as well as access to a number of community and mental health programs.
“However I’d like to stress that even if a producer lives in a shire that is not drought declared, they can apply for an Individually Droughted Property (IDP) declaration which gives them access to the same relief assistance.
The partial drought-declaration of Western Downs brings the total area of Queensland officially in drought to 58.13 per cent. Some parts of Queensland have been in drought since 2013.