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Thursday, 20 March 2014
Page: 1642

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (12:57): I rise to contribute to this debate on the Farm Household Support Bill 2014 and Farm Household Support (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014. The Greens support urgent financial support for farmers and welcome the provision of critical mental health services to regional areas. However, we do not believe that the bill has been designed to help farmers in the long term. Here I am talking of—and I have touched on this previously—the impact of climate change. We are acting as if climate change does not exist and is not going to have an impact on farmers and growers into the long term.

Senator Milne has circulated a second reading amendment, and on behalf of Senator Milne, I move that amendment, which seeks to:

At the end of the motion, add:

"and, given the scientific evidence of changing precipitation patterns and extreme weather events, like heatwaves and droughts, becoming more intense in Australia because of climate change, the Senate calls on the Government to expand the existing National Disaster Resilience Program to include a provision for drought assistance."

This second reading amendment acknowledges that drought fuelled by global warming is not a one-off problem. The future of farming families depends on addressing our changing climate within any drought package. We need to be acknowledging it now so we can deal with this problem that is only going to get worse.

The Greens are proposing a stronger and permanent disaster resilience fund that would do more to help in drought, which affects farmers so badly, than a one-off drought relief response, which we keep doing. We need to be doing long-term planning to address the ongoing issue of the impact of climate change in more and more severe droughts.

Any drought plan needs to help farmers who are struggling today and needs to ensure that there is a long-term strategy in place to provide for the reality of a warmer, drier climate. Extreme weather conditions and natural disasters like droughts, heatwaves, floods and bushfires hurt those who rely on the land for their livelihood across Australia. With the Bureau of Meteorology declaring 2013 Australia's hottest year on record, with extreme weather conditions expected to become more frequent, we can expect to have much more intense droughts as the ambient temperature continues to rise. Climate change will cause bigger falls in crop yields than has been previously estimated. This will exacerbate food insecurity. A new study has been looking into this. The research which was conducted by Australian, British and American scientists found that the situation will worsen in the second half of this century, with tropical areas hit worse than temperate regions. We also need to bear that in mind when we are talking about developing the north.

It is absolutely critical that, if we want sustainable agriculture and want farmers and growers on the land, we address this issue now and do not pretend that these are just one-off events, because they are not. We should be recognising that. We do our growers and our famers a huge disservice by not making sure that, as well as helping with the most immediate problem, which of course we have to, we need to plan our response for the long term and not bury our head in the sand. A classic example is in Western Australia. We had a bumper yield this year, but we still had some farmers in the north-east region of the wheat belt who suffered from drought and did not put a header into the crop. We need to recognise this issue and we need to help now because if we continue to ignore it we are just going to see more and more farmers leave the land. As the CSIRO said in their report released last month, climate trends are changing agricultural regions. They are transforming them, it said. We need to transform our agriculture and recognise that, which is why we need a longer term strategy.

In the study that the Australian, British and American scientists undertook, they carried out an analysis of more than 1,700 simulations. They found that across all regions and all crops, including wheat, maize and rice, yields will drop by two per cent each decade based on a two-degree rise by 2050. Just last week, the UNFCCC workshop report on the adaptation of the agricultural sector highlighted the need to adapt our agricultural practices and technologies to build in more climate-resilient agriculture and allow for sustainable agricultural production. Many parties at the workshop emphasised that there is an immediate need and priority for the adaptation of the agricultural sector to climate change impacts. Water deficits and droughts significantly decrease agricultural production. Addressing the issue of drought, many parties provided information on the establishment of services for seasonal climate forecasting, drought monitoring or drought early-warning systems as elements of their adaptation practices in agriculture. Several parties also emphasised the importance of an understanding of the long-term macro-level impacts of climate change in order to develop national extension plans to train farmers. The activities that were highlighted in the workshop are just as relevant here as anywhere else on the planet. It is absolutely essential that we start putting in place these practices.

While the package that we are debating and supporting through this chamber today is important and essential, I do not want to be back here in a couple of years having to do exactly the same thing—this package on hormones—because we have more farmers in trouble and we have to put in place more ad hoc measures rather than doing this according to a strategy where we sit down and work it out now. Our farmers need to be confident that we do have the adaptation plans in place and that we do have the research and development done to assure them that they have crops that will grow in a drying climate and they have production systems. They may look slightly different or quite a lot different because, as CSIRO said, climate change will transform our agricultural regions. Therefore we need to transform our agriculture. If we do not ensure that we have those measures in place, we are failing agriculture and we are failing our farmers and our growers, and this is across the broad, in agriculture, horticulture and viticulture. We need to put this strategy in place and we need a disaster resilience fund and program so that we can have the funding in place to support growers in the face of the impacts of global warming on their land use, their farms and their production. We are failing our farmers if we do not.