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Drought pilot needs a three-point landing

1 February 2011

“DROUGHT may be the last thing on most peoples’ minds right now, but drought management and preparedness reforms need to be bedded down to set Australia up for the next big dry,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Jock Laurie warned today.

“The NFF has championed a fundamental shift in the way Australia prepares for, and deals with, drought. It came to a head in 2007 when, then in Opposition, Labor committed to the NFF’s proactive approach to better prepare Australia’s vital food and fibre production for droughts.

“We called for a pilot in February 2010 and we support the review announced today. The review panel – Mick Keogh (Chair), Sue Middleton and Bob Granger – will need to be conscious of three key points in making a sensible assessment of the WA pilot and where it goes from here, namely:

  • Consideration must be given to the duration of the pilot. Measures implemented over the last 12 months may take years to reveal their full benefits, so results may not be fully formed, let alone be able to be definitively interrogated and assessed.
  • That unforeseen seasonal conditions, and their impact on the pilot, must be considered as part of the evaluation. The drought preparedness approach was intended to be conducted in non-drought conditions to give farmers the ability to put drought-mitigating strategies and practices in place. However, with WA slipping into drought conditions during the pilot, this will likely skew data responses and participation numbers.
  • We are, therefore, concerned that the Federal Government should not act on or roll out the pilot without evaluations having been fully completed or examining complementary policies that could run in conjunction with drought measures, such as insurance, Environmental Stewardship and climate change research and development.

“We all know, especially farmers, that drought relief is just stop gap. The plan the NFF put to the Government, which formed the basis for the WA pilot, is to get ahead of the curve to better drought-proof Australian farms by investing upfront in on-farm climate adaptation and mitigation.

“This proactive investment in managing climate risk is intended to reduce the strain on farmers and taxpayers during future droughts. It’s smarter to invest in drought management and preparedness practices today and, over time, reduce the need for drought relief.

“As farmers and communities across most of regional WA are experiencing right now, drought is, and always has been, a reality in Australia. For years we have been calling for a shift in the policy focus from ‘drought relief’ to ‘drought management and preparedness’.

“While it may seem ironic that in the wake of record floods – floods that have affected all six states of this country – we are today talking about drought measures, this is, in fact, the perfect time to be dealing with drought policy.

“We have an opportunity to appropriately gear Australia for the next big dry. We don’t want to waste this opportunity nor can we afford to leap to conclusions based on a 12-month pilot. Cool heads are needed.”

[ENDS]

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