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Tuesday, 23 August 1994
Page: 46

Senator MARGETTS (4.59 p.m.) —I support Senator Brownhill on this matter. We congratulate him for recognising the importance of the impact of climate change for farmers and rural communities generally. The impact of the climatic uncertainty and unstable weather conditions caused by the scale of human activities has been devastating, not only here but in many nations. Weather has always been variable, but now we see extremes of weather patterns caused by a changing climate. I would like to quote from a recently produced document by Greenpeace called Climate Time Bomb.   The section called `spreading drought' quotes from the intergovernmental panel on climate change and says that recent studies have `reinforced concern that drought is the area in which climate change poses the greatest risk for agriculture.' The report continues:

    The warning signs are already here:

1900:World grain reserves drop to just 60 days after poor harvests in the drought-affected US in 1988 and in India in 1987.


1990:The five-year drought is the longest this century. By 1992, agricultural production is crippled and insect plagues proliferate. Voters rate water second only to crime as their main concern.


1990:The worst drought this century leads to food and water shortages.


1991:While total UK rainfall remains normal, the most severe drought since the turn of the century is withering southern England.


1992:The fourth year of drought induces emergency water conservation measures in France and Spain (May). Denmark reports its worst drought on record, expected to cause crop losses of $1 billion (July). The worst drought in more than 150 years causes insect plagues and huge crop losses in Austria (August) Greek religious leaders ask the nation to pray for rain (November).

Southern Africa,

1992:Drought-stricken cattle-grazers fight for access to game reserves. Zambian hydro-dams dry up.


1992:The worst drought on record threatens the survival of Peru's 67,000 alpacas, the major source of income for most mountain villages.


1993:After four years of drought, starving peasants in northeast Brazil loot shops for food.

Southern Africa,

1993:The drought now covering Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, is declared the worst in living memory.


1993:Northeast Queensland reports the worst drought this century. Officials say the consequences of the drought will be `severe and permanent'.

  Many of our recent severe droughts (and floods) have been linked with a unusually prolonged El Nino event, a periodic climatic pattern which generally lasts 12 to 18 months and brings warm conditions to the eastern Pacific. Some climate scientists believe that El Nino events will become more intense and more frequent in a global warming world.

Consider the dire consequences for Australian farming. Farmers are already embattled by the economics of trade, generally declining trends in primary commodity prices and callous bank and loan policies. They are making often heroic efforts to preserve their soils and make farming sustainable. The cost of changing climate, forcing farmers to re-tool for planting unfamiliar crops, and perhaps rendering some areas unfit for agriculture, will be added to their problems.

  The Prime Minister and his government have certainly been guilty of disregard of this issue. While taking a prominent role in the past during international negotiations, they have taken little practical action here at home. Our greenhouse emissions are among the worst in the world. In spite of recent briefings of the Prime Minister by the CSIRO, according to the Minister for Foreign Affairs we are now contemplating backing down even on the limited commitments we have made, and fighting against a climate change convention with any power of enforcement. The result will be disastrous for any attempt to get other nations to take this critical issue seriously.

  Farmers need our support on this issue. They have a keen awareness of environmental conditions. As Senator Brownhill notes, they can suffer devastating personal and financial losses from bad environmental management. This is why the National Farmers Federation has recently backed moves to have environmental considerations more strongly considered in trade. It is not enough today for farmers to manage their own farms well. Sustainability requires a government commitment to good national and international management. We support the farmers and believe that they should get some assistance in this time of hardship. Equally as important, the government must act to assure that this sort of event does not become more common or the norm.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! That completes the time allowed for the debate on the matter of public importance.