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Wednesday, June 16, 2021
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A tinder dry argument

The penny is finally dropping that the old cycle of droughts and floods and a return to normal seasons no longer applies. The peak farmers’ organisation gets it, that’s why the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has been so critical of the federal government’s failure to come up with a long-term new drought strategy.

The bipartisan strategy put together back in 1992 clearly is no longer fit for purpose. Its pre-supposition was that farmers only had to be helped survive until the drought breaks and then, when the rains come, everything would be “as you were”. But finally, the warnings we have been hearing from the scientists – the CSIRO, the experts at the Australian National University and the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – are ringing painfully true.

The “land of drought and flooding rains” is certainly still with us, but the droughts are longer and more severe and so are the storms. The seasonal pattern is being turned on its head; bushfires in Queensland and NSW in late winter and early spring are sure-fire evidence of this. These changes are not only being experienced in Australia but around the planet.

Now that the NFF has made its submission to the government, Drought Minister David Littleproud says he will soon unveil the government’s new, long-term strategic plan. If it doesn’t take into account climate change and doesn’t also accept the need to begin reducing emissions and take up this cause internationally, it will be an abysmal failure.

But as one regional Liberal MP put to me, even if we finally did get serious on climate change, the problem will not be solved tomorrow. No, we as a planet and as a nation have wasted at least 37 years ignoring the problem, denying it or playing short-term politics with it. In 1992, the UN’s Rio Earth Summit spelled out the threat of global warming. The Hawke Government paid lip service to emissions reduction and the fossil fuel lobby began gearing up to debunk the science to safeguard its considerable vested interest. This was a worldwide reaction. Talk about fiddling while the planet burns.

In the meantime, the drought has become a tinder dry argument particularly for the coalition parties. The Nationals are furious the Prime Minister wants to own the issue at their political expense. Scott Morrison is seen as muscling in on their turf. What is making the junior coalition partner particularly furious is that by not giving them more of the limelight on drought relief announcements, he is making them more vulnerable to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party. The Shooters are gearing up to have a concerted go at the Nationals in the federal Murray Darling Basin seats at the next election. A blank cheque for farmers is surely not the answer. Facing reality is and the viability of many farms needs to be honestly faced.

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