The Politics    Thursday, October 3, 2019

Barren fields

By Russell Marks

Barren fields

Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud, Nationals member for New England Barnaby Joyce and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

The Coalition’s drought response has so far been farcical

After nearly three years of what has been described as the worst drought on record, Australia is still waiting for the Coalition government to get serious about it.

Large tracts of New South Wales, southern Queensland and northern and eastern Victoria have experienced their lowest levels of rainfall on record during the 32 months between January 2017 and August this year. Those regions have been joined more recently by large areas of the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.

The government’s response thus far has been underwhelming enough for its former special drought envoy, Barnaby Joyce, to warn the Coalition it risks “political annihilation” in the bush.

Joyce wants the government to build more dams. That’s what he says he told Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a series of reports he provided while he was special envoy between August 2018 until just after the May election. In those reports, the former National Party leader says he specifically nominated the top of the Dawson River, Mole River, Dubbo, Walcha and locations near Mackay and Tenterfield as proposed sites for new dams.

But Joyce’s nine months as envoy are mired in farce. When Labor asked the government to produce Joyce’s reports, drought minister David Littleproud said he couldn’t do that. “The request for the former special envoy for drought assistance and recovery’s report cannot be complied with,” Littleproud wrote, “as he did not prepare a final report and as such, no document exists.”

This response raised Joyce’s ire. He told the ABC that he had, in fact, sent “an awful lot” of reports to the PM – in the form of text messages. More recently, Joyce released a truly strange video that shows him in his office, introducing viewers to a wall clock, a photo of the members of Combat Team Tusk, a portrait of Joh Bjelke-Petersen – “he built dams, lots of them” – and piles of papers on a table, some of which Joyce claims are letters from Morrison thanking Joyce for his “detailed feedback on the impacts of the drought” and his “appraisal drawn from your on-the-ground experience” with farmers and in drought-affected communities.

It turns out there wasn’t all that much “on-the-ground experience”. Despite charging $675,000 in expenses, as well as another $200,000 for two allocated staff members, travel records show Joyce spent less than three weeks in drought-affected communities outside his electorate during his nine months as special envoy.

But the Coalition’s problems go much deeper than Barnaby Joyce. Its policy response thus far has largely been limited to the provision of extra cash to affected farmers and communities. The government claims that it is spending $7 billion on drought, though most of that is a $5 billion “future drought fund” – itself largely reallocated from a former Labor government infrastructure fund – which will only begin making disbursements next July.

And questions are being asked about the funds that have been allocated, with one local council – Moyne Shire, in south-western Victoria where there is plenty of rainfall – set to reject a $1 million drought-relief grant on the grounds that, according to its mayor, it’s not actually experiencing drought. Labor has asked the auditor-general to investigate the government’s $7 billion claim, which shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon has described as the “most audacious lie” he’s ever heard in politics (a claim that may itself be mildly overblown).

Anthony Albanese pointed out yesterday that despite talking up dams, the Coalition hasn’t built a single one since 2013. Nor is the Coalition doing much at all about one of the most likely contributors to the drought – the warming of the climate.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“Academic freedom means industry funding must come with no strings attached.”

University of Sydney professor Lisa Bero, speaking out against the growing trend for universities to accept industry funding, and the restrictions industry often then wants to place on research and its publication.

“We should push back because these people are a scourge.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton agreeing with 2GB host Ray Hadley’s suggestion today that climate protesters should have any welfare payments they’re receiving cut.

What drives Penny Wong
Penny Wong is the intellectual leader of the Labor Party. Now the subject of a major biography, her politics is shaped by her experiences of difference and her belief in compassion.


The number of years of imprisonment faced by Justice David Mossop and his ACT Supreme Court staff if they don’t strictly adhere to Australia’s complex secrecy laws, as well as orders placed on the court by the attorney-general’s department, when they oversee the case against former Witness K lawyer Bernard Collaery.

After federal Liberal National Party parliamentarians from Queensland successfully pushed the Coalition party room into taking another look at nuclear power, their state LNP colleagues have declared themselves against the whole idea.

The list

“Clearly, we’re going to be bombarded with superhero movies from now until the extinction of humanity – that is, for about the next 50 years … Given this fact, the question becomes: is there the possibility of making personal work within this genre? To be subversive, idiosyncratic? … Todd Phillips has pulled it off. Destined to be one of the most divisive movies of the year, Joker is something wholly unexpected.”

“A scam artist, an ignoramus, a professional liar, a colossal and malignant narcissist, a vulgarian, a casino operator, a serial bankrupt – a Roy Cohn–mentored billionaire with deep Mob connections – is in the White House. Has there ever been a more American presidency? What took them so long?”

“Chris Brooks does not mince his words. By his reckoning, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), the body that regulates Australia’s most important river system, is ‘absolutely inept and grossly negligent’. The politicians who oversee the MDBA are a ‘mob of morons’, and the party they belong to, the Nationals, is thoroughly ‘in the pocket’ of big agribusiness mates who are, in turn, ‘stupid, greedy, hungry, selfish bastards’.”

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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