Federal Local Government and Regional Services Minister Bridget McKenzie visited Cowell last week to discuss the new drought grants with local councils.
The Minister came at the invitation of Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey, who has been advocating for more support for the area.
Minister McKenzie said Mr Ramsey had “made it very clear” that the area was struggling, and that he wanted her to see “first-hand” the impact of the drought, in particular the difficulties caused by drift.
She said that coming from regional Victoria, she had never seen drift to the extent that it had affected the Cowell and Cleve regions.
Franklin Harbour District Council staff drove Ms McKenzie and Mr Ramsey around the districts and to speak to farmers in Arno Bay.
“It’s really brought home to me the problem,” Ms McKenzie said.
Following the drive, the minister met with representatives of the district councils of Franklin Harbour and Cleve to discuss the new $1 million federal drought relief grants.
Cleve deputy mayor Chris Tarran expressed concern about the timing of the grants, with a week remaining in council election voting.
He said the new council would need to work hard to have projects ready to go by December.
The government expects all $1 million to be spent by the end of the financial year, and Ms McKenzie said she had a task force in place to make sure every council would be able to have projects ready in time.
Ms McKenzie has had the local government portfolio for just more than two months, and said that in that time she had had “a lot of representation” from people who felt their regions had been left out of necessary drought funding.
She said this prompted her to collect a range of information including rainfall and agricultural workforce data to find areas that needed more funding, which lead to the addition of 17 councils around South Australia to the grants program.
Her focus for the grants is to have local councils employ local businesses to assist in drought relief projects.
She said tasks like cleaning drift from roads should be eligible for funding if local businesses were employed, and encouraged programs like the Franklin Harbour District Council’s wellbeing coordinator position.
“The goal is employing people and keeping the money in local business,” she said.
Ms McKenzie said when the rain came, “we want vibrant, sustainable communities to still be there.”