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PM announces $350m drought funding package -

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PM announces $350m drought funding package

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: Paul Lockyer with that report. Acknowledging the worst drought in Australian
history, the Prime Minister today announced more aid for struggling farmers. The first instalment
of an assistance package that's still in the making came in the form of an extra $350 million in
grants for exceptional circumstances. The money won't cover contractors or other rural industries,
but the Prime Minister has left that possibility open. Cabinet is still discussing the rest of the
assistance package, but while all sides agree the farmers need help, the wider political argument
is focussed on the best way to tackle the ongoing problems of climate change. Political Editor
Michael Brissenden reports.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Politicians don't need to go too far from Canberra these days to find evidence
of the drought, if any more were needed. Even the countryside just half an hour from the Parliament
is looking drier and dustier than it has in living memory and those who have a closer association
with the land are warning there's worse to come.

BILL HEFFERNAN: For a long time I've had the view that climate change is here. When you see your
ice caps melting, when you see the changing weather patterns, the drift of the weather southwards
and if you are not, as I said the other day in the Financial Review, if you're not the world's
greatest sceptic then you have to believe your advice and science and I do.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Down Junee way on farms like Bill Heffernan's the dust is the only thing
growing these days. But no one makes money from airborne dirt and today the Government announced a
much anticipated boost to drought assistance.

JOHN HOWARD: This is the first of what could be a number of decisions to be announced by the
Government to respond to this terrible drought. What we are announcing today is the commitment of
an additional estimated $350 million for exceptional circumstances drought assistance to support
farmers during the ongoing dry conditions. All eligible producers in 18 exceptional circumstances
declared areas and I'll provide a list, in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia
and the Australian Capital Territory will receive an extension to their income support and interest
rate subsidies until 31 March, 2008.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Australia has now been in drought for nearly six years and as dams dry up, the
crops fail and the blistering record October temperatures scorch their way across the nation,
everyone is wondering if this is just the start of a permanent change. Even the sceptics are
starting to reluctantly accept that climate change is now upon us.

JOHN HOWARD: As to the broader issue of the relationship between drought and climate change,
obviously you can't totally separate the two. But I think it's important that we don't overdo the
link. This country has been afflicted by drought for a very long period of time. This is clearly
worse than probably any we've had in the last century and there are many responses to the challenge
of climate change.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There certainly are, and we'll get to the views of the mainstream parties on
that in a moment. But first, it's worth reflecting on the reminiscences of the one politician in
this place who's never been a sceptic. In fact, Bob Brown has been banging on about climate change
for more than 10 years and he raised it in one of his first speeches to the Senate.

BOB BROWN: The Government benches broke out laughing. Bill O'Chee bellowed out, "You're out of your
depth. " Afterwards Dr Wood came across from the Government benches and said, "Look, you made a
mistake, Bob, you were meaning six centimetres and you said six metres. " I said, "No, I meant six
metres. " The smile went from his face. The Government benches aren't laughing now.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: No surprise, you might think, given green politics is Bob Brown's bread and
butter. These days, though, on climate change at least, there's not too many sceptics left and the
major parties are staking out their positions in response to the facts and the growing public
alarm. For the Government this means in part, at least, embracing a nuclear future.

JOHN HOWARD: I do believe this, that nuclear power is part of the solution to the problem of global
warming. And those who say they're in favour of doing something about global warming but turn their
faces against considering nuclear power are unreal.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It helps, of course, that the nuclear issue is a difficult one, to say the
least, for the Labor Party. But then, as Labor points out, this is a Government that's been
reluctant to embrace alternative renewable energy solutions with quite the same enthusiasm. Our
mandatory renewable targets are still just 2 per cent, well behind targets in comparable
industrialised economies. Even China is looking to reach 10 per cent by 2020.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, OPPOSITION ENVIRONMENT SPOKESMAN: Isn't it the case that the Government's failure
to increase the renewable energy target has meant that the Roaring Forties has cancelled projects
in Tasmania and South Australia worth $550 million that would have employed 200 Australians and the
Vestus renewable energy assembly plant in northern Tasmania is closing with a loss of 100 jobs?
Prime Minister, is there any other country on the planet where renewable energy projects are being
closed?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, we're still none the wiser on that one. The point is, like many things,
dealing with climate change is a matter of political emphasis. But with every unseasonably hot day
adding to public concern and with a drought and a long summer to come, climate change is now hot
politics for sceptics and believers alike.