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Déjà vu as PM visits region

A ewe sleeps with her lamb at the Sippels’ property last week. The surrounding saltbush is providing protection from the cold southerly wind as well as providing all the feed they need. Photo: Supplied A ewe sleeps with her lamb at the Sippels’ property last week. The surrounding saltbush is providing protection from the cold southerly wind as well as providing all the feed they need. Photo: Supplied

Déjà vu.

John Howard.

Déjà vu.

Kevin Rudd.

Déjà vu.

Tony Abbott.

Now Déjà vu, Malcolm Turnbull.

All well-intentioned prime ministers, of that there’s no doubt.

The idea is that if the PM arrives to a devastated drought-stricken property, and there’s a photo opportunity with a hard-working farming family and their kids scratching around in the dirt, that it will invoke sympathy and understanding in metropolitan areas.

And that’s great.

But we also need the PM and his entourage – and the national media pack – to visit land where farmers and graziers have made the changes that have kept them far more insulated from these extended dry times, and I could take them to 20 places tomorrow.

I told Malcolm Turnbull during the press conference at Trangie that as he drove into Narromine from Dubbo there were hundreds of acres of saltbush on his left, and that Narromine district grazier Andrew Sippel had so much feed from his “living haystacks” that he was fattening his sheep for market beautifully, and without any supplementary feeding at all.

At the press conference we heard all about the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent by organisations such as the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), but despite all the work done by many government-funded groups, we’re still not realising the full potential benefits as we swing in to drought after drought after drought.

We could scrap much of the bureaucracy and invest that money far more wisely; for example, we could offer incentives for farmers to plant saltbush.

Andrew Sippel believes the dollar cost is the major deterrent to the re-establishment of this amazing plant, a native shrub which the NSW Agriculture department said was a miracle feedstock but was in danger of being over-grazed out of existence as early as the late 1890s.

“Access to capital is the biggest hold-back to planting more saltbush, that’s what farmers are telling me, so (the government should be introducing) low or zero interest long-terms loans similar to the old Commonwealth Development Bank loans which had money available for long term positive projects,” Mr Sippel said.

“The prime minister and agriculture minister are very welcome to visit my farm at any time to see how farmers can cope during extended droughts without having to pay through the nose for bales of hay from South Australia, and then have to pay the transport costs to get (that feed) all the way up here.”

At the start of the famous Millennium Drought, I talked the then NSW Premier Bob Carr into visiting the Sippels’ farm.

He brought the state press corps with him and I thought the pictures would tell the story, but as a group they couldn’t have been less interested – they just wanted pictures of dying sheep and crying farmers.

It seems ‘solutions’ don’t sell newspapers.

John Ryan

John Ryan is a former journalist and now executive officer of a local land and environment co-operative.