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Janet on the drought crisis affecting Australian farmers

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 13 Aug 2018

New South Wales is 100% drought declared.


Queensland is 50% drought declared.


We have farmers shooting their stock, unable to feed them, crops not growing, the land turning to a giant dustbowl.


We have communities struggling, we have our environment in extreme stress.


Some farmers are calling it the worst drought for a generation.


In April I visited Swan Hill in northern Victoria and met with local farmers, indigenous people and community members. I saw a river system that’s in crisis, and a government that’s turning a blind eye. The Murray and the Victorian communities that rely on it are at a tipping point. There are no jobs, no businesses, and no thriving communities on a dead river, and that’s where it’s heading.


And that’s the Murray in Victoria. The impacts of the drought in the catchment of the Darling are a hundred times worse.


This is a crisis.



The Greens welcome and support the financial assistance for farmers, their families and communities who are struggling with drought in the Government’s extension of the farm household allowance payments from three to four years.


This has gone a tiny way to addressing the worst impacts of the drought, giving farmers a bit of support to help them buy in and pay for feed and water, but its a bandaid.


The Drought Relief Package, and indeed the farm household support extension  are inherently short-term, they  don't address the long term structural changes in farming that are needed to deal with the reality of drought, and in particular to deal with the reality that  droughts are increasing in intensity and frequency, because of climate change.


Even the Prime Minister himself has acknowledged recently that droughts are going to get worse because of climate change. And only 8 short years ago Mr Turnbull himself supported  Australia rapidly shifting our energy sources to 100% renewable energy.


At the launch of  Beyond Zero Emissions report into 100% renewable energy for Australia  in 2010 he said, and I quote: “The science tells us that we have already exceeded the safe upper limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide.”


In June, the Greens put forward a motion that passed the senate and was not vocally opposed by the Turnbull government.  The motion called for protection for Australian farmers and our agriculture industry by implementing the Paris agreement, which requires us to reduce emissions to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.


It called on the government to support the findings of the Garnaut climate change review, which found that without concerted action on climate change, by 2100 there would be a 92% decline in irrigated agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin, and that reducing our carbon pollution is the cheaper and more cost effective option for reducing climate change impacts on both our agricultural industries and rural and regional communities.


This is because we can’t just adapt our agriculture to 4 degrees of warming. We can’t adapt to the climate of our wheat growing areas becoming like the climate of the central deserts now. You just can’t grow wheat in perpetual drought.



So what the heck is Mr Turnbull and his government doing? We just heard this morning that Mr Turnbull and his government are looking at underwriting a new coal-fired power plant for goodness sake.


His government wants the Adani coal mine, the largest coal mine in the southern hemisphere, to go ahead. Incidentally with an unlimited water licence in areas of Queensland currently going through this drought.


It’s almost like he suddenly doesn’t believe climate change is real enough to warrant proper action.


The Coalition’s response to climate change was demonstrated by former Deputy PM and agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce last week, and I quote: “If I thought that there was something that we could do in Canberra, that we’d all go into that big wonderful chamber and vote on an issue that would actually change the climate and make it wetter, then I’ll move the motion and we’ll do it…. But it’s not. What we’re doing there is people saying this is a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of a fraction of a fraction and somehow that’s going to affect global climate. It won’t.”


This is the Barnaby Joyce from New England, a region suffering in this terrible drought.


There is a tiny element of Mr Joyce’s climate change denialism that is correct. It is going to take a global effort to fix climate change. But Australia needs pull its weight. Australia needs to be a team player.


Let me refresh the minds of the Coalition on what it means to be a team player.


We’re coming up to the AFL grand final soon. Each team has 18 players on the field.


Each player contributes to that team. The team will get nowhere, will not succeed unless they all work together to achieve their common goal, which is kicking goals!


What happens if you have a few players not pulling their weight? What happens if you have someone saying, oh well I’m not the star player, I’m not Buddy Franklin, so whatever I do doesn’t matter. I’ll just relax here and let the others do all the work.


That’s not how teams work.


And on the global team of polluters Australia is actually one of those big players, and so as part of the same global team  that has to work together to tackle climate change Australia we need to pull up our socks and contribute. Although Australia might account for a relatively small percentage of global carbon pollution we’re actually the 14th biggest emitter overall,  out of 196 countries despite only having a population of 25 million.  We’re really close to the top of the league table  highest polluters per person - only outrated by the oil producing states, Trinidad and Tobago and Brunei Darasalaam - not great role models!  None of the big emitters above us on the league table have the massive per person pollution that we have - no not even the US. And then, lets have a think about our exports. We’re the biggest liquid natural gas exporter in the world. We’re the biggest net exporter of coal in the world, providing a full third of all global coal exports.


So if Australia is to be a team player, we need to act on climate change. We need to embrace renewable energy and create the jobs and industries of the future, not stick with last century’s energy systems because the  fossil fuel mates from the big end of town have donated money to both the government and the Labor party.


If the Prime Minister and Barnaby Joyce and the Coalition really want to help protect our farmers, our agriculture sector and our nation’s food security, they need to stop supporting the polluting coal and fossil fuel industry and start getting serious about reducing Australia’s carbon pollution.


In the words of Prime Minister Turnbull 8 years ago, “We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after us.”

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