Progress on national drought policy, new dams on agenda

Progress, but still no agreement on national drought policy


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PM Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at the National Drought Summit at Old Parliament House in Canberra. Photo by Lukas Coch.

PM Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at the National Drought Summit at Old Parliament House in Canberra. Photo by Lukas Coch.

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Littleproud gets new gig as Minister for Drought Preparation and Response

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Scott Morrison says state premiers and agricultural minister are now “on the same page” and working towards an intergovernmental agreement to standardise policy.

The PM’s remarks followed his National Drought Summit, held in Old Parliament House in Canberra on Friday, where he also said the federal Coalition government is a “big believer” in new dams.

The Drought Summit launched a $5 billion Future Drought Fund, which is set to deliver $100 million in annual payments for in-drought support and resilience from 2020.

Mr Morrison also gave Agriculture Minister a new gig at the press conference following the roundtable.

In a move that begs the question what was government doing previously, Mr Littleproud was made the co-ordinator of the drought response across government agencies, as Minister for Drought Response and Preparation.

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The new appointment adds Mr Littleproud to the PM’s growing cluster of drought appointees, which includes the PM’s Special Drought Envoy Barnaby Joyce and Coordinator-General for Drought Major General Stephen Day.

Drought summit attendees engaged in a roundtable policy discussion over lunch, including federal and interstate politicians, community and farmer representatives, charities, bankers and bureaucrats.

Mr Morrison said his government would have “more to say” about building new dams, and pointed out they are a largely a responsibility for state governments – which are required to co-fund construction.

“We’re big believers in investing in catchment areas, so we don’t just see it (water) run out to sea,” he said.

Mr Morrison also said the issue of an intergovernmental agreement on drought policy was discussed.

Industry has pushed for consistent drought responses across state and federal governments, to help maximise the benefit of assistance.

There is concern for wasted money and lack of policy impact when one government funds in-drought support, such as fodder or grants, while another is backs preparation measures.

“The intergovernmental agreement was discussed by the agriculture ministers,” Mr Morrison said.

“That work is very much underway and will be considered by COAG (the Council of Australian Governments) later in the year.”

On the question of the role of climate change in drought, Mr Morrison said “the changing climate was of course was acknowledged” in discussion, but did not address the role it played in drought.

“I thought (Victorian Premier) Daniel Andrews put it well when he said we’re not here to have an ideological discussion on climate change,” he said.

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson welcomed the PM’s drought initiative, and highlighted progress on intergovernmental drought policy.

"Cynics suggested that the summit risked being nothing more than a 'talk fest'," Ms Simson said.

"I'm pleased to say this was far from the case.

"The NFF has long been calling for a comprehensive drought policy, which can only be achieved if we have comprehensive buy in from all levels of Government.”

Mr Morrison also pledged several new in-drought support measures:

  • $30m for charities to help families pay food and utility bills
  • $50m for water infrastructure,
  • $10m for mental health services 
  • Extending the drought communities program from 60 to 80 local councils

Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon branded the event a talkfest designed to grab headlines, and criticised the lack of recognition for climate change.

“In reality, it’s a promise to spend $100 million on drought each year from 2020 if he’s re-elected,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“Largely missing from today’s summit was a recognition that the starting point for good drought policy development is action on climate change and discussing what future farming will look like.

“We are still waiting for a long-term strategy for carbon mitigation and drought adaptation.  And we are still waiting for a plan to accelerate the adoption of best-practice natural resource management practices.”

National Drought Summit official statement

The Prime Minister together with Premiers and Chief Ministers at the National Drought Summit acknowledged that while Australia’s agricultural sector is healthy and productive, drought is affecting large areas of the country. In addition to taking forward ideas for improving responses to the current drought, the Prime Minister together with Premiers and Chief Ministers have committed to the following principles for drought reform:

There should no longer be Exceptional Circumstances declarations or ‘lines on maps’. Instead, governments should focus on addressing the specific needs of farming families, farming businesses and farming communities.

  1. Acknowledgement that drought is just one of a number of hardships that can adversely impact farmers.
  2. Recognition of the important role of farmers as the nation’s food producers.
  3. Future farm family welfare assistance should require a level of mutual responsibility.
  4. For access to the income support system, farming families should have a temporary period of exemption from the normal assets tests for farm assets, but otherwise receive the same access rights as the wider community.
  5. Government farm business support should assist farming businesses plan and prepare for the future. Farm business support will be based on a willingness by those businesses to prepare for the impacts of drought and climate change.
  6. The role of farmers in natural resource management and their role in maintaining vibrant rural communities.
  7. The importance of maintaining and supporting the natural resource base during drought and climate change.
  8. Government policies and programs should support farming communities to prepare for drought and enhance their long term sustainability and resilience.

It was also agreed that it was critical that governments plan for the future, given that droughts are part of Australia’s landscape. To this end, the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers agreed to discuss at the COAG meeting in December a new Agreement on Drought Reform. The development of a new Agreement will be guided, but not limited by, the following objectives:

  1. Farming businesses and farming communities prepare for drought by enhancing their long term sustainability, resilience and risk management.
  2. Farming businesses and farming communities are encouraged to adopt self–reliant approaches to manage their business risks, including through improved business decision-making tools, risk management strategies, new knowledge and tools from research and development.
  3. Farming businesses and farming communities prepare for, and adapt to, climate change and variability and their effects, including drought and high temperatures.
  4. Appropriate support, that recognises the special circumstances of farming families, farming businesses and related industries, is accessible and clearly communicated to farming communities when they are in need.
  5. A coordinated and collaborative framework for jurisdictions, local government, the private sector and non-government organisations enables responses to needs during periods of drought.
  6. Access to quality, common sources of data, including an improved understanding of fodder crops and holdings across Australia and the capacity for a consistent early warning system for drought.

The story Progress on national drought policy, new dams on agenda first appeared on Farm Online.

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