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Transcript of press conference: 6 July 2008: drought report.



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The Hon. Tony Burke MP Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry - transcript of press

conference: Drought Report

6 July 2008

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Transcript of press conference Subject: Drought Report Sydney

Tony Burke: Some time ago now we commissioned a review of drought policy to go through three different areas. First of all, to see what the likely projections were on the issues affecting drought and climate. Secondly, to have a look at the social policies surrounding drought. Thirdly, an economic review to be conducted by the Productivity Commission.

The first of those reports is now in and the thing that’s clear is that the ground rules have changed. Drought policy to-date has been based on dealing with a one in 20 to 25 year event. This report, done jointly by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, looks at what into the future can we expect a one in 20 to 25 year event to be. What’s clear is that the cycle of drought is going to be more regular and deeper than ever.

They’ve gone through three different ways of assessing the likelihood of drought. They’ve looked first of all at temperature, secondly at rainfall itself and thirdly at soil moisture. They go in order of reliability and availability of data.

The temperature information has the highest reliability of data, then rainfall, then soil moisture patterns. As you go through each of those three indicators, you then have a range of projections - some at the lower end, the mean projections and then the higher-end, most extreme projections of what could happen.

While this is a scientific report, parts of those higher-end predictions read more like a disaster novel than a scientific report. If I take you through some of the findings in each of those. When we talk about extreme temperature, the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology have found that events of extreme temperature that used to occur one in every 20 to 25 years are now likely to occur one in every one to two years, as we move towards the year 2030.

When it comes to rainfall, you go through the different projections and what you find is under the high scenario that we look like doubling the area that would be in drought and doubling the likelihood that it would be in drought.

On soil moisture, we again have similar patterns where at the higher end of projections we end up with drought occurring twice as often.

What this means, in terms of government policy, is we now know what would happen if we did nothing. If we failed to review drought policy, if we were to continue the neglect and pretend that the climate wasn’t changing, we would be leaving our farmers out to dry, well and truly. And the reason is simple: what used to be regarded as a one in 20 to 25 year event in order to qualify for drought assistance is now going to hit far more often than it has before.

This review will be fed into the social policy review and the economic review being conducted by the Productivity Commission. But the thing we know for certain from today is that the ground rules, because of climate change, have themselves changed.

Journalist: This is only modelling, how confident can you be that it’s accurate?

Tony Burke: What we’ve done is taken the best climate scientists in Australia and asked them to come up with their best information. They’ve gone through the different scenarios: they’ve looked at the more conservative projections, they’ve looked at the mean projections and they’ve looked at what could be the more extreme projections. They’ve worked that through scientifically. And yes, they’re projections. And yes, we all hope that we can work our way forward to reducing the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and start to ameliorate what some of these projections are based on. But the bottom line of all of this is that this has been handed to the Government, but it’s entirely written from beginning-to-end by scientists.

Journalist: Is this the first time that the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO have agreed that drought is a direct result of climate change?

Tony Burke: I’m not sure of that.

Journalist: Are you now trying to work out what is a one in 20 or a one in 25 year event? Or are you actually saying the situation that we’re in now, which is considered a one in 25 year event, is going to occur more frequently?

Tony Burke: Well what I’m trying to find out is: what would happen if we changed nothing. Some people were critical of the idea of the idea of reviewing drought policy at all. I always wanted to make clear that we wouldn’t be changing the ground rules under anyone who was currently on drought assistance. So that farmers in the toughest times they’ve seen in the last 100 years would have that certainty of knowing that government support was continuing. What I wanted to find out was: if we change nothing, the events that used to occur one in every 20 to 25 years, how often can we expect them to occur into the future? Depending on whether you’re talking about the temperature, the rainfall or soil moisture, you end up with figures that go from twice as often, to one in every one to two years.

Journalist: Well what does that mean in the future? Does that mean that farmers in a drought as severe as the one now will not necessarily get drought support because the baseline has been moved out because of climate change?

Tony Burke: Well if we change nothing, climate change would mean that droughts may no longer be regarded as one in 20 to 25 year events. It was the fear that that could be the case that initiated the drought review in the first place.

Journalist: So in other words, people in a drought like this might not be getting drought support because it used to be a one in 20 to 25 year event but it will no longer be?

Tony Burke: If we change nothing, then there will be droughts that may not be considered one in 20 to 25 year events because they will be occurring far more regularly than that. That’s what this report says. We’re not going to change nothing. We set up this review so that we can get the policy parameters right. The ground rules have changed. We need government policy now to catch up with what the climate’s delivering for our farmers.

Ends