The Merriwa community this week had the opportunity to raise their concerns with New England MP Barnaby Joyce.
Barnaby Joyce who is also the Special Envoy for Drought Assistance for the Federal Government held the drop-in session on Tuesday afternoon at the Merriwa CWA Rooms where around 30 residents spent the afternoon talking about what their greatest challenges are and what they would like to see the government do for them.
The visit was a part of the New England MP's tour of drought-stricken NSW and Queensland; he stopped by communities in Merriwa, Wallabadah, Bedourie, Longreach and St Georgeamong others to offer local people, councils and businesses direct input into the Federal Government’s drought relief program.
Barnaby Joyce said he always says to people to imagine if you were the boss in Canberra and you could do whatever you wanted, what would you do to help the people of the Upper Hunter through the drought.
"It's interesting that the same ideas that came back from that [Merriwa] are the same I got in Western Queensland, in Longreach, in Wallabadah and basically its making sure that we have accessible financial support through the Farm Household Allowance, that it is restructured in such a way that people can get quicker access to it, make sure that there is infrastructure expenditure and we keep the economy of the local town going,"
"Water infrastructure so that people buy things at the hardware store for water infrastructure on their place, issues such as wild dogs whether it’s at Merriwa or whether it is Longreach, it's the same issue and people want to make sure that the government uses that as a form of economic stimulation and also leaving a legacy into the future of a better outcome."
Barnaby Joyce said water infrastructure is very frustrating because the Greens don't want them to be built.
"The one thing you can do in droughts is build dams and unfortunately every time we suggest a dam some bureaucrat in a green organisation turns up and tells us a reason why we can't and then they go back to their happy little house at Woolloomooloo in the centre of Sydney and we are left with basically no water, they're quite happy to have water as long as nobody else has it," he said.
On what Barnaby Joyce will be taking back to the Prime Minister, he said there need to be some big changes to the way the Farm Household Allowance scheme works.
"Even as we speak I am writing a letter to the Prime Minister which is a summary of what I’ve heard in Merriwa, of what I’ve heard in Longreach, and how it’s so interesting there are such strict similarities between all of these towns even though they are thousands of kilometres a part but they are all dealing with the same thing,”
“That is this massive drought and it’s going to require money, it’s going to require expenditure,”
“I would love to see a debate in politics not about which way we part our hair in Question Time but on issues such as the drought so that the people in Merriwa, the people in Gundy, the people in Scone and Aberdeen all have that capacity to say something,"
"What I’ve stated to the Prime Minister is that it is most important that we have a drought package rather than just a social security package so that any person who is in drought can get access to because what we have at the moment is a social security package called the Farm Household Allowance and although it is doing its job, it’s not doing its job for the people that need it,” said Barnaby Joyce.