Media Release with Shadow Minister Joel Fitzgibbon
The Federal Government’s credibility on drought is in tatters after revelations it ignored Bureau of Meteorology advice before allocating $1 million in drought funding to Moyne Shire Council in Victoria in September.
Moyne Shire infamously refused to accept the funds, with the Mayor stating at the time that his region wasn’t in drought.
Freedom of Information disclosures reveal the Government used a different definition of drought to that used by the Bureau of Meteorology, and then handed $1 million to Moyne Shire Council under the Drought Communities Program Extension when obviously they were not in drought.
The documents released under FOI reveal emails between the BoM and the Department of Infrastructure in late September, in which the offices discuss how to define a drought by rainfall deficiency. The Infrastructure Department allowed itself to select any 12 months in a 24 month time frame, as opposed to the BoM which measures 12 consecutive months of rainfall deficiency.
A senior officer at the BoM settled the dispute on 1 October 2019, with an email to the Infrastructure Department:
“I retain the view that the criteria that have been used by Infrastructure are problematic. It is feasible for a few very poor months (occurring in usually high rainfall months) to suggest that an area is “in drought” even if rainfall in the following 20+ months is average to favourable.”
The officer’s assessment of the Department’s methodology came after the email of September 30 2019, where the BoM’s Public Affairs Manager asserted:
“As per the Bureau’s rainfall deficiency information, Moyne Shire Council has not experienced serious rainfall deficiency during the past two years.”
This misuse of rainfall data by Minister Littleproud follows Prime Minister Morrison’s recent decision to set up a $50 million ‘discretionary fund’ allegedly to support projects in LGAs impacted by the drought.
Minister Littleproud has not released any information about how he will allocate the $50 million, deferring all decisions until the New Year.
It is likely this fund has been established to allow the Minister room to fund projects in councils that do not meet the Government’s arbitrary, unscientific criteria on rainfall and agricultural employment. Criteria that Coalition Ministers overlooked for at least two councils awarded drought funding.
Meanwhile, drought-affected communities including Moira in northern Victoria, Bundaberg in central Queensland and Singleton, Shoalhaven and Yass in NSW are crying out for support.
Instead of ignoring the experts, the Federal Government must adopt methodologies for allocating scarce taxpayer funds that our communities can have faith in.
The Federal Government must show some leadership and develop a plan for this historic drought.
Both Ms King and Mr Fitzgibbon have written to the Auditor-General requesting an audit of the Government’s poor administration of its drought funding programs.