QRIDA – Weathering the storm

Welcome to Turf ‘n’ Surf, a podcast that tells stories in Queensland’s farming, fishing, biosecurity and forestry sectors.

Queensland has the unenviable title of Australia’s most natural-disaster prone state.

Wild cyclones, monsoonal rainfall events, and bushfires wreak havoc on the agriculture industry with producers suffering significant damage to both their business and their homes.

And although Queensland’s hard-working producers have a well-earned reputation for incredible resilience, having to rebuild businesses and homes following a natural disaster is a daunting task which can require substantial assistance so that the production of food and fibre can continue.

In this episode of Turf’n’Surf, we’ll look at what can happen to a producer when mother nature vents her fury, the assistance that is available to producers to get them back on their feet following a natural disaster and how they can access that assistance, and the Queensland Government disaster recovery initiatives that are building capacity for the state’s producers to weather the storm.

Meet our guests

Jacqueline Curley Jacqueline Curley
Ross Henry Ross Henry
Phil Maher Phil Maher

TRANSCRIPT

Program intro: Welcome to Turf and Surf, powered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host:

Program segue: You’re listening to Turf and Surf, the official podcast of Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: Queensland – beautiful one day, perfect the next. It’s the tourism industry’s advertising mantra – perfectly summing up one of the state’s major drawcards, the fabulous weather.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes, the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric. Queensland’s weather isn’t always perfect, or even beautiful, for that matter.

Quite to the contrary, it has a long history of turning nasty with devastating consequences.

In fact, Queensland has the unenviable title of Australia’s most natural-disaster prone state.

So imagine the challenge of farming in that environment.

Wild cyclones, monsoonal rainfall events, and bushfires wreak havoc on the agriculture industry with producers suffering significant damage to both their business and their homes.

In some cases, it means having to start from scratch again.

Although Queensland’s hard-working producers have a well-earned reputation for incredible resilience, having to rebuild businesses and homes is a daunting task which can require substantial assistance so that the production of food and fibre can continue.

I’m Brad Muir. In this episode of Turf’n’Surf, we’ll look at what can happen to a producer when Mother Nature vents her fury, the assistance that is available to producers to get them back on their feet following a natural disaster and how they can access that assistance, and the Queensland Government disaster recovery initiatives that are building capacity for the state’s producers to weather the storm.

Program segue: You’re listening to Turf’n’Surf’, the official podcast of Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: Jacqueline Curley and her husband Robert run the Gipsy Plains Brahmans Cattle Stud at Cloncurry – a business that has been in the family since 1963.

They were severely impacted by the 2019 monsoon flood event, losing half of their livestock and suffering significant property damage.

Thanks for joining us Jacqueline and for sharing what I am sure are some painful memories of a very difficult time for you.

Firstly, what was your reaction when the rain started falling?

Jacqueline: Our first memories, well, was joy, because we’d been in sort of good seven years of really dry times, so first two or three days we were over-joyed.

Host: And how did that change when it became apparent that it was no ordinary rain event?

Jacqueline: You could say fear started to set in and that feeling, that heavy feeling in the gut, thinking well what’s going to happen to our livestock as each day passed.

Host: So talk us through how the flood affected your business. What was lost and damaged and how did it affect your business?

Jacqueline: Damage wise we lost a lot of road infrastructure, that’s a huge asset which is not taken into account a lot of the time. There was a lot of erosion to fix afterwards, quite a bit of fencing, some pipeline damage, we lost a massive dam.

Probably the biggest thing which hit us, of course, was our livestock. All the rest of it that can be replaced fairly easily, just takes money. We sort of lost probably half of our 40 years of good genetics really.

So, we lost those, but we were in a fortunate position, at least we had the base from the old herd. So, we were able to rebuild that and that’s the good news.

Host: And apart from the physical loss and the impact on your herd, what was the emotional toll?

Jacqueline: I would call it living on a roller coaster Brad. Pretty much emotions just up and down and I think that would probably be fairly true of most people that have been through this.

But if you recognise the reason and you just have to cut yourself some slack because, you know, a great loss of motivation comes after an event like that and I'm not quite sure when that picks up again, but hopefully, you know, we’ll all get back on track sooner rather than later.

Host: So when the water receded and it came time to assess the damage and start the long journey to recovery, what steps did you take?

Jacqueline: Our first priority was the welfare of the remaining stock that were here, making sure they were able to survive going forward.

Once that was all under control, we looked at the disposal of carcasses, because then you need to do that to eliminate any future diseases coming from the carcasses. So that was a huge job.

Then we looked at the long term, short term, long term financial impacts to our lives and our business.

Host: So that’s when you got in touch with QRIDA. How did you find out about QRIDA and what assistance did they give you?

Jacqueline: Well QRIDA assistance came from Scott Morrison’s trip out here to these western areas.  QRIDA was their, their sort of their front runner to deliver funds and help to people.

So that was sort of advertised. The local shires had information sessions.

QRIDA themselves put information out and we had a lot of personal contact with QRIDA because we already have, two of our family deal with QRIDA for banking, so we had that sort of personal interaction straight away.

So, we’re pretty much on-board with everything that was happening with QRIDA.

Host: And how did the assistance that QRIDA gave you helped you to recover?

Jacqueline: The initial assistance that came through QRIDA, the 75,000, was very welcome to everyone.

I know we alone spent most of that just in helicopter fees and sort of general damage things at the very beginning. It’s small numbers compared to, I think some companies spent up to almost three quarters of a million dollars just on helicopter fees alone trying to sort of save livestock.

So, every little bit was very helpful and it’s spread across such a large range of the community. I think that first payment was extremely helpful for a lot of people.

And then came the restocking money which was on a dollar-for-dollar basis. They gave a dollar, up to 400,000 for every dollar that you put forward.

So basically people were able to get $400,000 to help them restock and that was also very helpful. We have utilised all of our restocking money.

You know, we might have, we lost over 3000 including calves and we’ve only bought a few hundred, but at least it gives you a start. It also gives you some motivation to get started.

Host: The assistance that QRIDA gives is so much more than just about the money. Tell us about the ongoing personal support that QRIDA give you.

Jacqueline: I can't say enough good about QRIDA. They were really amazing. They were always there at the end of the phone.

They processed applications quickly. They were pretty amazing. They came out here two or three times.

Yeah, they were genuinely emotionally involved and helpful in the whole procedure I felt.

Host: So how do you think you would or, in fact, could have coped without QRIDA’s support?

Jacqueline: That’s a very good question Brad. I'd like to think everyone who was lashed by that monsoon event would have survived without financial assistance.

But what I do know is that that hand upwards gave us all a certain knowledge we were fully supported by our current Federal and State Government and, therefore, you felt that the financial institutions were going to be behind us to pull our businesses back together, which they were.

Also, very importantly, they extended the timeframe of that assistance and that was really, really helpful because the seasonal conditions have not really been kind here since. A lot of pastures haven’t recovered well and people haven’t been able to restock in many instances.

And those extensions, they’ve also given people time to work through their whole mental shock cycle and it really gave people that important headspace to be able to make those hard decisions which a lot of people actually had to make.

Program segue: This Turf’n’Surf podcast is powered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: On this episode of Turf’n’Surf, we’re looking at the assistance that is available to Queensland’s producers to get them back on their feet after natural disasters, and the Queensland Government disaster recovery initiatives that are building capacity for the state’s producers to weather the storm.

The Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority, or QRIDA as it’s known, helps primary producers make a start in agriculture, improve long term sustainability and profitability, and overcome difficult conditions including recovering from natural disasters.

Ross Henry is QRIDA’s Disaster Recovery Manager. Ross works with government and industry representatives to prepare and coordinate QRIDA’s response and in-field presence to declared disaster events.

Thanks for joining us Ross. To begin with, give us an overview of QRIDA’s disaster recovery programs. What support is available to producers affected by a natural disaster, and how do you help producers recover from a natural disaster?

Ross: Primarily QRIDA manage the DRFA funding and disaster relief funding arrangements. So that’s part of a State and Federal Government response to disaster assistance for impacted primary producers, small businesses and not for profit.

So that enables primary producers, small businesses and not for profit to access grants and also concessional lending. The concessional lending is disaster assistance loans and essential working capital loans.

So the grants are more for the immediate resumption of their business, help them with that recovery process, whether that be cleaning up debris on their farm, redoing fencing, internal roads, irrigation and then the loans is a little bit more long term to try to get them to, you know, rebuild their business.

Separate to that as well, working with different organisations, both federally and state-based departments, we can offer bespoke disaster assistance as well.

Host: I get the sense that running those programs is a coordinated effort with a number of agencies. Who do you work with to deliver assistance to producers?

Ross: We work very closely with a lot of other Queensland departments. So obviously the Department of Agriculture, we also work with Department of Communities and Small Business, Queensland Reconstruction Authority, the ones that lead the DRFA in Queensland. So, we work quite closely with those.

Federally, we work with National Bush Fire Recovery Agency, specifically on bush fire recovery and the Flood and Drought Agency on the flood response to the monsoon trough event a couple of years ago.

We’ve got an extensive network of industry, stakeholders, local government, we work quite closely with the likes of AgForce and QFF, Cotton Australia and Growcom.

They’ve got a network of people and have a direct line to the impacted primary produces. So, they’re really important people for the recovery process that we try to manage.

So, it’s really good to have that kind of wide variety of stakeholders that we deal with to help us in that recovery process.

Host: So Queensland has that most unfortunate and unwanted tag of Australia’s most natural disaster-prone state.

In recent times we’ve been impacted by cyclones like Larry, Debbie and Yasi. You mentioned the bush fires and also the monsoon event.

Obviously there’s been a lot of assistance provided in response to those events. Can you give us an idea of how much assistance QRIDA has provided?

Ross: You’re definitely right, it is a very impacted state.

Over the history of delivering the DRFA funding and the previous incarnations of that, we’ve delivered over $900,000,000 worth of funding and 53,000 approved applications. It is a lot of support that is delivered into the region and in South East Queensland when you think back to disasters to help people recover from significant disaster events.

Drilling down into that, the monsoonal trough event which I touched on earlier, for that event alone, we received over 4000 applications, approved nearly 3500 applications for over $141,000,000 worth of support into the region. So a really significant event.

Host: So from that high level overview of the assistance you’ve given, do you have some real world examples of where QRIDA’s assistance has helped someone to re-establish their business?

Ross: The monsoonal trough event, being such a wide-spread and significant event and devastating event, there’s some fantastic examples of how this DRFA funding, the grant and the loans, have been able to get people back on their feet.

So, on the coastal regions where that event hit, there was obviously a lot of sugar cane impacted. The $75,000 grant, you know, sugar cane producers were able to access that really quickly. So that really helped them restore roads so they could move around their farm to aid their clean up.

So that funding, you know, it reaches their bank accounts really quick, and it really speeds up their recovery process for them. It just takes away one of those frictions around how are you going to cost this out and how are you going to actually come up with the money for that recovery process.

Moving west obviously, you know, you change industries, and you go out west and you really come to beef cattle country. But obviously there’s similar things. The internal roads and fences were devastated within that region.

So this $75,000 again, you know, they applied, the money was in their account very quickly and they were able to start that recovery process. So we think the quicker the money moves into their account, the quicker then they can access that money to speed up their recovery.

In addition to that, the significant stock losses within that, the regions out in the north-west. So again, the $75,000 grant was able to help them fund some of that restocking and get their business back up and running.

Host: Now as much as we hope that our producers aren’t impacted by natural disasters, the reality is that at some stage it will happen. So when it does, how can producers access QRIDA’s assistance?

Ross: We have a website which is a fantastic resource for people looking for information on disaster activations and what assistance is there.

Separate to that, we have regional area managers, but we also have our phone number and we’ve got a reception desk. So, you know, we’ve got, you know, multiple channels that we’ll try to connect with people.

And then, second to that, if you're connecting through your normal stakeholder engagement processes, whether your industry body or, you know, your local disaster management groups or anything like that, you know, we’re plugged into those networks as well so we can try to get the information out as quick as possible.

Program segue: You are listening to Turf’n’Surf, the official podcast of Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: On this episode of Turf’n’Surf, we’re looking at the assistance that is available to Queensland’s producers to get them back on their feet after natural disasters, and the Queensland Government disaster recovery initiatives that are building capacity for the state’s producers to weather the storm.

Phil Maher is the Director of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ disaster Response and Recovery Unit – a specialist group the develops and coordinates the department’s natural disaster framework in line with the state’s disaster management arrangements.

Thanks for joining us Phil, tell us about the DRR. What do your people do?

Phil: They’re a small group that runs out of Brisbane and, basically, we support the work of the regions in helping agriculture recover from the impacts of disasters.

So, the sorts of things we do, we implement reforms to the different processes that we use. We also work with other areas of government in developing disaster policy and ensuring that agriculture is well represented in those policies.

We coordinate DAF’s annual preparedness training and seasonal debriefs. So, we physically go around the state and annually train our staff in the different processes that we have in place for disaster management. We monitor and report on weather events. We run disaster exercises from time to time.

One of the main things that we do is support the regions to undertake impact assessment, trying to quantify the impacts of disasters on agriculture production.

Host: Your team, and the department, has a special relationship with QRIDA. So tell us about that relationship. How does it work?

Phil: QRIDA are a statutory authority of the Queensland Government and they’re established under an Act and they report to the DAF Minister.

Host: Following a natural disaster the recovery effort gets into full swing. What do DAF staff on the ground do to help producers in the affected area?

Phil: Initially we’ll work in the response area and we work by providing representatives on state disaster coordination group, district disaster management groups and some of the local disaster management groups.  We work in that response phase providing information into those management groups.

The other thing that we do is on ground. We provide advice at community recovery centres that are usually set up post-disaster. So, our staff will actually be sitting in the recovery centres providing information on assistance that’s available, how people can get access to that assistance.

And we also undertake, as I was saying, the impact assessment. So, we’ve got an app we’ve developed. Staff actually go out in the field, talk to producers and go through a survey process asking about what the impact of that disaster has been for the producer. So, what's the impact now, what's the impact in terms of long-term impact, how long will it take them to recover.

We then collate all that information and make a decision about whether it meets the requirements for assistance for primary production under the disaster recovery funding arrangements.

Host: What can producers do before a disaster to minimise the impact and disruption and get back on their feet as quickly as possible?

Phil: I think the main thing that they need to do is to really know the risk and then have a plan in place to mitigate some of the things that they can mitigate.

The sorts of things that they can do is look at, historically, the impacts of disaster on their property and make decisions about where they place infrastructure and those sorts of things around the property.

They can have plans in place for ensuring animal welfare. They can have plans in place for moving animals if a disaster is looming. In some instances, they can have insurance in place which is a good way to help them recover.

And it’s also important that they have a list of contacts, emergency contacts, available at their fingertips for things like local government, emergency services, electricity, those sorts of things so that they’re not running around in the heat of the moment trying to find those sorts of things.

Host: It’s not unusual for people who have suffered a major trauma to be confused and unsure of what to do next. There’s a bit going on, they’re under a lot of stress.

So who should those who have been impacted by a natural disaster contact in the first instance?

Phil: Following a disaster, through the disaster recovery funding arrangements, we might be able to put forward a case for what's called category D funding. And under category D funding, we’re able to put in place support services to help recovery of the broader community including primary producers.

So, as part of that process, if I use the 2019 monsoon event as an example, we put in place some mental health professionals, there’s farm financial counselling services that are available to help people make some decisions around their finances as a result of the impact of disaster. And we also can employ industry recovery officers.

So again, with the monsoon event and Cyclone Debbie, we had industry recovery officers in place. They work with the community and local government and others to provide information and support on what support services that are available for recovery.

Things like helping people fill in forms, providing phone numbers and connecting people together, going to workshops, those sorts of things to just promote the recovery efforts that are available to help people who have been impacted.

Host: And Phil where can producers go to find out more about disaster management and recovery?

Phil: I think probably the best place that people can start with is going to the DAF website which is www.daf.qld.gov.au and if they search for natural disaster information that will take them to the page that has all the information available for primary producers.

Things such as what assistance might be available and information on things like animal welfare, et cetera. The other place to go is to call the DAF call centre on 13 25 23.

Program outro: You’ve been listening to Turf’n’Surf. Turf’n’Surf is produced by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. For more information or to subscribe, visit our website at daf.qld.gov.au.