1 September 2023
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Drought Policy and Response GPO Box 46
BRISBANE QLD 4001
1 September 2023
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Drought Policy and Response GPO Box 46
BRISBANE QLD 4001
AgForce is a peak organisation representing Queensland’s cane, cattle, grain and sheep, wool & goat producers. The cane, beef, broadacre cropping and sheep, wool & goat industries in Queensland generated around $10.4 billion in on-farm value of production in 2021-22. AgForce’s purpose is to advance sustainable agribusiness and strives to ensure the long-term growth, viability, competitiveness and profitability of these industries. Over 6,500 farmers, individuals and businesses provide support to AgForce through membership. Our members own and manage around 55 million hectares, or a third of the state’s land area. Queensland producers provide high-quality food and fibre to Australian and overseas consumers, contribute significantly to the social fabric of regional, rural and remote communities, as well as deliver stewardship of the state’s natural environment.
AgForce welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the review of Queensland’s drought declaration process, conducted by yourself, which will examine how drought declarations are made and how they support primary producers.
AgForce recommends Local Drought Committees remain an integral part of the state government response to managing drought and drought response. We support the development of a long-term approach to managing drought response and drought declaration processes, including a revised terms of reference that further improves the system and that benefits primary production in Queensland.
AgForce supports in principle Queensland Drought Declarations, Local Drought Committee Guidelines, (DAF 2021, v1.3)1. Below are recommendations AgForce believes would strengthen the process.
AgForce Key Recommendations for LDCs:
- Decision making using local knowledge and avoiding a formula-based approach.
- The declaration and revocation process should remain subjective.
- LDC provides the local knowledge and expertise and support to government decision-making.
- The continued inclusion of committee representatives from primary industry organisations in broadacre production zones.
- A set of eligibility criteria for LDC representation and membership – listed below.
- A set of criteria to improve the LDC framework, processes – listed below.
- A set of criteria to revise Terms of Reference listed below.
- LDCs utilise Regional Business Resilience plans (RBRP).
- LDC utilise the Agricultural business cycle in decision-making framework, together with ‘Regional Business Resilience Plans’ and ‘Individually Droughted Property’ information.
Drought Declaration Process and Revocation (non-declared Drought)
AgForce recommends avoiding a formula-based approach to define drought – declarations or revocations.
It is essential that any response by governments and industry participants is fit for purpose and effective in minimising the social, environmental and economic impacts of drought.
To make fully informed decisions on the need for declarations or revocations, it is important that use of available objective scientific data is underpinned by local understanding of current and expected pasture/agricultural conditions and the impact of the current season on production.
There is no one-size-fits all approach due to regional differences, demographics, vast and variable Queensland landscapes, farming systems and business models.
Climate records are not a reliable indicator of ‘on the ground’ landscape conditions and historical records may not be a predictor of future weather. Decisions made primarily based on historical data and on satellite imagery or seasonal forecasting, risk miscalculating the situations and needs of affected farmers. For this reason, we recommend the declaration and revocation assessment process should remain subjective; a combined approach of local knowledge complemented by departmental data.
When drought declaration is revoked, it is important to give sufficient notice and provide a transition rather than a sudden cessation. Again, consultation with local reference committees has an important role to play.
Local Drought Committee(s) Representative and Membership
AgForce recommends continued support for Local Drought Committee(s) (LDC(s)), providing locally relevant expertise and support for government decision-making and also supports the continued inclusion of committee representatives from primary industry organisations in broadacre production zones ie, AgForce.
AgForce supports in principle, current guidelines regarding Local Drought Committee regions and memberships (DAF 2021, v1.3, page 2) and we recommend the following criteria for eligibility of LDC committee representation and membership and that this be considered for a revised Terms of Reference.
Peak agricultural industry body has a role in identifying and nominating committee representatives.
Industry nominations selected though an EOI (expressions of interest) approach.
LDC Committee representative made up of at least 5 committee members (chair, secretariat, and at least 3 local producers – each nominated by peak industry body, representative of agriculture in the area.
LDC committee representatives must be local producers, in the first instance.
- Producers must have local knowledge.
- Representation by appointment only, not by election process,
- Clearer processes of appointment and retirement of committee membership.
- Proactive members that are available to meet commitment.
- LDC membership fixed tenure periods eg, 5 years, with staggered terms of representation (forcontinuity of committee’s local knowledge),
- Succession planning of committee membership; members must remain relevant and contemporary to industry practices.
- Public transparency of membership and position status; tenure period, reappointments, vacancies, retirement, etc.
- LDC committee membership not filled, remains vacant until filled.
- DAF officers
Who are LDC members, will have expertise relevant to that particular area of agriculture, such as beef cattle, sheep, horticulture, dairy and agronomy (DAF 2021, v.1.3.). We recommend DAF officers, act as secretariat support to the LDC, (not as LDC members) and be the conduit of data and information flow between the department and LDCs.
Each committee be represented with secretariat support by the department to the committee, with minutes of the meeting made public.
Only LDC members to hold voting rights on the committee.
For liability reasons, the chair of each LDC will be the Climate Risk Coordinator responsible for the area the LDC represents, or a DAF officer with the delegated responsibilities (DAF 2021, v1.3). AgForce recommends an independent chair – preferably an LDC member.
- LDCs are geographically based in regional council/shires – aligned to local areas.
Ultimately, it is imperative that all drought declaration or revocation recommendations to the department are conducted in line with appropriate reporting criteria and based on objective and subjective decision-making and free from bias and made available to public.
Local Drought Committee Framework
AgForce sees a stronger role of Local Drought Committee(s) (LDC(s)) to be part of the end-to-end reporting and a solution to the Agricultural Business Cycle, rather than simply a trigger mechanism at the in-event stage.
While the LDC system was originally designed to support in event measures and subsidies to drought affected primary producers under the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme, consideration should be given to expanding the role of the LDCs to include providing an industry ‘early warning’ of drying conditions with supporting extension material to encourage proactive management decisions in the regions.
The knowledge of local producers regarding the local environment is an important factor which is invaluable in supporting fair and equitable decisions for all parties regarding drought declarations or revocations and assessing statements of landscape conditions.
AgForce supports local expertise continuing to inform decisions affecting that area. However, we make the following recommendations for improvement of an LDC framework, processes and Terms of Reference:
- A review and evaluation and reporting framework be established with industry.
- Queensland drought declarations and revocations to establish clear committee objectives and consistent Terms of Reference.
- Clarity and transparency on the processes and procedures used, including the criteria applied and reasons behind declaration or revocation decisions.
- Transparent reporting of LDC membership and operations made public.
- A regular review and evaluation framework being co-designed and established with peak industry agricultural bodies.
- Considering a clearer role for Local Government, who co-contribute drought support.
- LDCs’ meetings managed in a consistent manner being either face-to-face or via teleconference. There should be no one-on-one phone calls used to make decisions.
- Transparency of LDC positions; vacancies, retiring/retired postings and current tenure periods of existing LDC members.
- The local drought committees, to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of services, (reporting).
- LDC, integral to providing feedback to Government and community.
- Better engagement with Local Government Areas, IDPs, industry and industry leader programs.
- Enhanced integration into federal and state-run drought programs, including better integration to Queensland innovation HUBs as a data point for producers to access information.
- The process of drought declaration and revocation needs to be tied in with LDCs and AgForce's Agricultural Business Cycle.
Regional Business Resilience Plans
AgForce recommends LDCs utilise Regional Business Resilience plans (RBRP). We see LDCs being uniquely positioned to provide ‘on the ground’ local expertise and engagement to the regional areas and playing an integral role in the responsibility for delivery of regular climatical matrix data (ie, monthly, quarterly) via Regional Business Resilience Plans.
While state government collects significate climatic data such as rainfall, soil etc, many local governments and LDCs do not and rely on whatever is on offer. A way to deal with anomalies of particular areas is for LDCs to utilise (improved) Regional Business Resilience Plans and Business Resilience plans (offered by affected producers) as data sets for each region and sub-region, compared to government data for better decision making and transparent reporting by LDC’s into the future.
Individually Droughted Properties (IDPs)
Extreme events are by their nature difficult to prepare for – ultimately there is a point where resilience planning may not be enough.
It is common for a region to have enjoyed good rainfall and agricultural season, yet other properties of that region to miss out on rainfall affecting a shire and community. For this reason, AgForce supports the continuation of IDP declarations and revocations for primary producers, as a means of recognising the varying state of land conditions at point in time and validation for the producers managing difficult climatic conditions.
An IDP declaration or revocation serves as a diagnosis of the prevalent condition and aids the mental resilience of a producer knowing it is not bad business practices, but agricultural business cycle and climate variability.
AgForce recommends Local Drought Committees’ – decision-making framework, utilises ‘Regional Business Resilience Plans’ and ‘Individually Droughted Property’ information which all aligns to ‘the AgForce Agricultural Business Cycle’.
Terms of Reference
Clarify and Define Areas of Responsibility, Processes and Procedures of LDCs
Again, AgForce supports, in principle, the Queensland Drought Declarations, Local Drought Committee guidelines (DAF 2021, v1.3).
AgForce as a peak state agricultural body, seeks the continued involvement with industry partners, stakeholders and the department in the decision-making process, the progressive improvement of an LDC framework and the co-design of future Terms of Reference for LDCs. AgForce makes the following recommendations for inclusion into a term of reference:
We see importance of coordinating data from the department however, we seek to avoid use of aggregated data or a formula-based approach to LDC decision making. A level of subjectivity based on local knowledge and experience must remain the determining factor.
The Department makes a declaration or revocation in real time, posts regular meetings of the local drought committee (ie, monthly or quarterly) and receipt of a formal record. The Department formalises the declaration on a publicly assessable website, highlighting how the decision was derived.
The Minister reserves the right to make ‘special announcements’ in extreme event or disaster situations, where special assistance measures require approval and announcement by the Minister.
- LDC Responsibilities
The LDC reserves the right to call special general or extraordinary meetings, to assess drought
conditions ‘in event’ of urgent circumstances or to expediate declarations or revocations of region.
Our members have asked for transparency; AgForce recommends, all minutes of LDC meetings and committee recommendations and data used to make assessment to the Department, be posted on a publicly accessible website; to avoid confusion or misinformation.
- LDC Authority
LDCs to be given authority to make weighted recommendation to the Department. Drought declaration and revocations need to recognise differences between regions and consider factors unique to different enterprises. For example, those reliant on surface water will have greater risk than those with access to bore water. Similarly, drought affected landholders not recognised because they in a non-drought declared shire.
AgForce Agricultural Business Cycle (ABC)
An approach to drought which aims to support primary producers prepare and mitigate drought conditions, while reducing the social, environmental and economic cost of managing climate risks by utilising the AgForce Agricultural Business Cycle (2018), (ABC)2.
Application at each phase of the cycle activates a set of triggers and a set of planned response measures. A stronger alignment to the ABC framework by LDC and their terms of reference will improve outcomes and future decision making, which allows further integration of state and federal drought programs.
A Role for the AgForce AgCarE Program
We strongly support investment into AgCarE3, a tool to measure your natural capital assets and biodiversity, at a property level perspective, enabling all stakeholders to be able to measure the current state of natural assets in a pragmatic manner, mitigating the cyclical pressures of drought and with data that tells a story and supports decision making at the micro and macro-level and that promotes efficient and productive businesses through management actions. AgCarE is a science- based approach (with a scientific verification panel); a program delivery system that offer progressive improvement of reporting and performance metrics.
The Drought Program
The system of drought assistance in the Queensland state has broadened to put a stronger and welcome emphasis on helping primary producers of all types prepare for the inevitable next drought event, while retaining discretion for in-event support. Recognising the ‘economic drought’ can have a long lag time after physical drought ends, assistance during this time is vital in keeping businesses going and getting communities back on their feet.
AgForce thanks you and the Department for the opportunity to provide feedback to this review of local drought committees.
We note other recommendations from the Burke & Wade review, that we encourage the Government to also progress, including those relating to reforms to fodder, tree harvesting provisions and embedding drought-related triggers, also for increases to the Queensland Department of Education Living Away from Home Allowances Scheme (LAFHAS).
If you have any questions or require further information regarding this matter, please contact Sam Forzisi, AgForce Policy Director, by email: (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Chief Executive Officer