The plight of farmers facing the current drought has understandably prompted an outpouring of sympathy that has resulted in a deluge of donations and offers of assistance from the broader community. However, while acknowledging the emotional and economic suffering, questions are being raised about the wisdom of subsidising, and therefore perpetuating, what are clearly unsustainable farming practices.
70% of Australia's mainland is classed as arid or semi-arid, yet over half of Australia is used for grazing or agriculture. Therefore, after removing public forests and national parks from the equation, some 30% of farming activity is taking place in semi-desert country, something which will only worsen as the world gets hotter under climate change.
So far, with no end in sight, and driven by criticism from the industry that the government isn't doing enough, taxpayers have had to commit $1.8 billion in government drought relief. Much of that criticism comes from the same sector that lobbied incessantly against the Native Vegetation Act (NVA), and publicly burned copies of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Ironically, deforestation is known to result in hotter landscapes and decreased rainfall, and broad-scale land clearing is something the NVA was designed to slow. Also it is livestock, and the management thereof, that has caused the bare dirt paddocks and starving animals which fill our media, not the drought.
The farming community has always accused city-based 'lefties' of trying to dictate what can be done on their land, but has no problem demanding assistance from those taxpayers whenever natural disasters occur.
Perpetuating the situation is clearly not the answer so, rather than pay billions of dollars to keep stock alive on marginal land, why not pay landowners to remove livestock, and manage their land as carbon sinks to help reverse climate change impacts?
The conundrum here is that it would require a recognition of the reality of climate change, and the introduction of some sort of carbon trading scheme, both of which are unacceptable to any of the political parties that currently claim to support farming communities.
- John Edwards