Drought-stricken communities will soon have a powerful new body working to solve problems on the ground.
The NSW Nationals in Government will establish an Office of Drought Response to enable increased support for rural and regional communities.
The office will bring together senior government and departmental staff with the ability to make things happen quickly and effectively.
Deputy Premier and NSW Nationals Leader John Barilaro said the new office will send employees from a range of government departments into drought-ravaged regions to offer a unified approach.
“The NSW government is establishing a dedicated Office of Drought Response that will enable increased support for regional communities suffering during this prolonged drought,” Mr Barilaro said. “This drought has quickly moved beyond the farm gate and spread into regional towns and cities. The Office of Drought Response will bring together all resources of government to support families, businesses and farmers ensuring we are doing everything in our power to make sure our regional communities make it through this drought.’’
The work of outgoing drought co-ordinator Jock Laurie was absolutely crucial in developing a keen understanding of the issues facing people, Mr Barilaro said.
“State drought co-ordinator Jock Laurie played an important role in helping to lead the immediate response to the drought on behalf of farmers,” Mr Barilaro said. “His contribution to regional NSW during the most severe drought on record has been outstanding and we thank him for his tireless effort working on behalf of the state’s farmers. The primary focus of the NSW government will be to continue its support for farmers through direct support.”
Mr Barilaro said the Office of Drought Response would be based in the Office of the Co-ordinator-General within the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment and provide robust governance of drought-related water and land use issues.
The office will bring senior officials from all departments to the same table, with the ability to direct their departments to act in real-time.
“If there are issues around mental health, education, within primary industries, water, there will be lines of communication going directly from the ground to the Office of Drought Response that will form policy and have an immediate response to those issues,” Mr Barilaro said. “There will be a role for ministers across the board to have an eye on what is happening in the regions and drought support.”
Government employees who go into regional communities will be tasked with a role similar to Regional Town Water Supply Coordinator James McTavish, who was appointed in January to make sure residents had access to safe and acceptable drinking water.
“James McTavish is the best example of this at the moment,” Mr Barilaro said. “He goes out, reports what he finds, make recommendations and we respond quite urgently to his requests. Someone from within each department will be nominated to have a hands-on role.”