An extended farmers’ assistance Bill has been introduced since Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Agriculture Minister David Li

Rural reckoning

The big dry has gripped swathes of the nation: more than 57 per cent of Queensland is in drought, 46 per cent of NSW is classified ‘drought onset’ and the big dry extends to parts of WA, Tasmania and Victoria. The dire situation, which impacts the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands and threatens agricultural supplies, prompted a much-publicised visit by politicians to affected farmers early last month, and long-term drought policy under a changing climate is now up for discussion. 

Meanwhile a Bill has been introduced under which eligible farm families receive the equivalent of the dole for three years.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud whose electorate in Queensland is now in the seventh year of drought is now planning a roundtable with key farming stakeholders including the National Farmers’ Federation and state farming groups to discuss long-term drought policy in light of the changing climate.

“This roundtable will discuss long-term drought policy and strategy in the context of building resilience and drought preparedness during a changing climate,” he said.

During the visit to dry dusty paddocks Turnbull commented the rural sector needs to adapt to “a drier, hotter and more variable climate".

"That's what we've got to plan for, resilience is the key … the climate is changing,” he told the gathered media. “I know it becomes a political debate. But there's no doubt that our climate is getting warmer.

"The reality that you face is that rainfall has always been variable in Australia, it appears to be getting more variable," he said.

Others would argue it might also be wise to address the root cause of the problem – namely a warming climate caused by rising emissions.

For his part David Littleproud acknowledges climate change is happening and has described the transition to renewables as “exciting”. His views appear to echo those of his constituents.

Guardian Australia reports that rural attitudes are changing and that regional Australia has “turned the corner when it comes to acknowledging the reality of climate change”.

President of the National Farmers’ Federation Fiona Simson told the Guardian podcast  “We have been experiencing some wild climate variability … while we are a land of droughts and flooding rains, absolutely at the moment people are seeing enormous swings in what would be considered usually normal. They are getting all their rainfall at once, even though they end up with an annual rainfall that’s the same, it’s all at once, or it’s in so many tiny insignificant falls that it doesn’t make any difference to them.

“And the heat. We’ve had some record hot summers and some weird swings in seasons … it’s got to the point where the science is very acceptable.”

Fiona Simson believes the climate change-driven transition underway in the energy market now needs to be viewed as an opportunity, rather than something to resist.

More information on support available for farmers at: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/drought/assistance/sup-farmers-rural-communities-drought

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