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Details of national review of drought policy released.



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

19 June 2008

Details of national review of drought policy released The Rudd Government today released the terms of reference for the three separate investigations which form the national review of drought policy.

The three parts of the review are:

• An economic assessment by the Productivity Commission;

• An assessment of the social impacts of drought by an expert panel; and

• A climatic assessment by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO.

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, said he expected to receive the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO report in the next month and the two other reports later in the year.

“This is another important step forward in the Government’s efforts to ensure drought policy meets the future needs of our farmers in a changing climate,” Mr Burke said.

“The Rudd Government is determined to support our farmers to build even more competitive, productive agricultural industries.

“Unless we change the system, farmers may not qualify for future drought support under current definitions because droughts may no longer be something that occur only every 20-to-25-years.

“There are also concerns about the current process of drawing lines on a map as the first step in defining who is eligible for drought assistance, which can exclude farmers in need of support.

“The drought policy review will complement other initiatives such as the $130 million Australia’s Farming Future package which will increase on-farm preparedness, boost research and provide more professional advice and training to primary producers.”

Terms of reference for the three assessments were developed in consultation with state and territory governments and relevant Commonwealth agencies.

Mr Burke recently announced the members of the expert panel for the social review, which will be chaired by AgForce Queensland chair Peter Kenny.

The panel will visit rural communities to hear first-hand how the drought has impacted on them.

For more information on the drought policy review, go to www.daff.gov.au/agriculture-food/drought, or free call 1800 200 876.

A summary of the Terms of Reference for the three reviews follows.

Productivity Commission economic assessment

The Commission is requested to:

1. Report on the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments’ business support and income support measures provided to help farmers, farm businesses and farm-dependent rural small businesses manage drought. Support measures assessed will include, but not be limited to, EC Relief Payments, EC Interest Rate Subsidies, Exit Assistance, Farm Management Deposits, Professional Advice and Planning Grants, Irrigation Management Grants and rate rebate schemes. In undertaking this inquiry, the Commission is requested to report on the impact that the provision of support to farmers, farm businesses and farm-dependent rural small businesses has on performance and productivity at the individual, business, industry, regional and state levels.

2. Identify impediments to farmers, farm businesses and farm-dependent rural small businesses improving self-reliance and preparedness for periods of financial difficulty.

3. Identify the most appropriate, effective and efficient Commonwealth, state and territory government response to build farmers’, farm businesses’ and farm-dependent rural small businesses’ self-reliance and preparedness to manage drought.

The Commission may draw lessons from the broad range of support measures that are or have been available to farmers, farm businesses and farm-dependent rural small businesses, or which are more broadly available to the Australian community.

The Commission is to take into consideration the NDP objectives and the Commonwealth Government’s Expenditure Review Principles. The identification of appropriate, effective and efficient government support should be consistent with these objectives and principles.

With reference to the findings of the expert panel and the BoM and CSIRO, the Commission should examine the interaction between current government social support services and business support and income support measures, and the impact of social support services on self-reliance, preparedness and performance.

The Government will consider the Commission’s recommendations, and the Government’s response will be announced as soon as possible after the receipt of the Commission’s final report.

Expert panel review of social impacts of drought

This assessment will report on:

1. The social dimensions of the impacts of drought on farm families and rural communities.

2. The objectives, extent and range of Commonwealth, state and territory governments’ and non-government social support services, including counselling and advisory services, available to farm families and rural communities during periods of stress and change such as drought.

3. Gaps in the application of Commonwealth, state and territory governments’ and non-government social support services for mitigating the impacts of stress and change such as drought on farm families and rural communities.

4. Possible social support services for mitigating the impacts of stress and change such as drought on farm families and rural communities.

This assessment will not examine the appropriateness, effectiveness or efficiency of government drought business support and income support measures.

Nature of the assessment Extensive public consultation throughout rural Australia will be a key aspect of the expert panel’s work. The panel will consult government and non-government agencies, including those with social and community responsibilities.

In undertaking this assessment, the panel will draw on existing research and may consult social researchers. The panel will have the capacity to engage analytical support as it sees fit. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry will provide secretariat services to the panel.

The panel is expected to provide a final report to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in September.

Climatic assessment by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO

The BoM and CSIRO are requested, on the basis of current knowledge of climate change science, to assess:

1. Likely changes to temperature regimes over the next 20-30 years across significantly sized regions (for example, northern Australia), such as consecutive sequences of unusually warm months or seasons.

2. Likely changes in the nature and frequency of severe rainfall deficiencies over the next 20-30 years, in comparison to severe rainfall deficiencies defined by the available instrument records. Severe rainfall deficiency is defined as an event in the lowest 5th percentile of historical records persisting for prolonged periods and over significantly sized regions.

3. The likely effect of projected climate changes on integrated measures of drought such as soil moisture, water availability, or an appropriate drought index, such as the Palmer Drought Severity Index, over the next 20-30 years.

4. The place of past exceptional climatic events in the context of the likely frequency and severity of future climatic events.

Based on this assessment, the BoM and CSIRO are requested to comment on the appropriateness of the current one-in-20-to-25 year Exceptional Circumstances event trigger based on the historic record.

BoM and CSIRO are also requested to provide a preliminary assessment of future information needs and areas for more detailed assessment.

Nature of the assessment BoM and CSIRO will provide a final report to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in the next couple of months.