OPINION

Leave the politics out of drought assistance

Empathy in question: Politicians must be called to account. Primary industry is just too important to be allowed to wither and die.

Empathy in question: Politicians must be called to account. Primary industry is just too important to be allowed to wither and die.

There is something so unseemly about politicians trying to win headlines when there are whole rural communities on their knees.

We all know what needs to be done to fix the drought.

But unless one of us has - like Harry Potter - managed to find Ollivander's shop and buy a magic wand, then we're probably not going to be able to cast a rain spell and provide instant relief to our struggling regional areas.

So without the ability to conjure rain from a cloudless sky, we are obviously now asking ourselves what can be done to help the rural sector get through the tough times.

The generosity of people from all over the country in supporting drought-affected communities has been impressive.

So many people have been so moved by images of how the drought has devastated parts of our country that they have organised appeals and collected donations to be distributed to struggling communities, but this isn't going to be enough.

The bulk of the support is going to have to come from the government. Traditionally, the federal and state governments have split the responsibilities. Federal government is acknowledged with being responsible for looking after "people", while states have taken on the task of looking after infrastructure and stock.

There are myriad programs offered by both levels of government and there has long been criticism that the associated paperwork is so complex that farmers need specialist help to even apply for assistance.

It seems pretty obvious that the whole thing should be brought together under a federal government umbrella for the sake of consistency and, one would hope, a reduction in red tape.

The problem, of course, is politics. As is often the case, it's likely to be an almighty roadblock. One would imagine that state governments would not look kindly on any attempt by their federal counterparts to "take over".

But the drought is yet another issue that should be beyond politics.

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall last week unloaded on his National colleague, Federal Water Minister David Littleproud, after comments made during a visit to Inverell.

Mr Littleproud told farmers that the federal government was going to remain agile and ask the states to do the same.

"I've written to all the state premiers and asked them to consider paying councils the rates of local government for small business and for farmers to give them a reprieve," he said.

"And they could look at payroll tax as well because those businesses in town, as we heard yesterday, are also hurting.

"So this has to be a targeted approach in a co-operative way with the states, and I just ask the states to think deeply about this and to act quickly."

Mr Marshall was quick to hit back with an attack on his party colleague.

"My only advice to the Commonwealth is, instead of trying to shift the blame onto the states, how about they get their own house in order?," he said.

"Like why do they give drought money, $1 million, to councils in Victoria that clearly don't need it and quite publicly don't want it either."

How about our parliamentarians stop playing politics with the drought?

There is something so unseemly about politicians trying to win headlines when there are whole rural communities on their knees.

It doesn't help that Mr Marshall's dummy spit comes not long after we learned that Barnaby Joyce reportedly spent $675,000 in expenses while acting as a "special drought envoy", but only about three weeks actually in drought-affected areas outside his electorate.

Imagine how many groceries - or bales of hay - that $675,000 could have bought farmers who are struggling to put food on the family dinner table or keep stock alive a little longer.

It's simply not good enough, and we need to call politicians out on it.

Primary industry is just too important to this nation to be allowed to wither and die. The drought will break and farmers will once again be able to return to the job of providing food for our country and valuable commodities for export.

But for now, they should be able to expect that MPs, both state and federal, take a rational approach and resist the urge to try some political point-scoring that shows little in the way of compassion or empathy with struggling communities.