Academics and organic farmers have lined up in support of Agriculture Minister Tony Burke’s planned review of the drought assistance policy.Dean of the Faculty of Science at Charles Sturt University, Professor Nick Klomp, says the review is appropriate in the face of climate change.
Prof Klomp thinks it is time for a review because the last comprehensive review was in the early 1990s, when climate change was not an issue, and less, not more, government support to farmers was envisaged.
“Since the 1992 Hawke government review, both State and Federal governments have introduced a series of ad hoc, largely uncoordinated drought-relief packages,” he said.
“The drought support measures should truly be for unforseen adverse circumstances.
“The support needs to be for farms that are viable long-term, but which are harshly affected by drought in the short-term.
“The support should not be a subsidy for poor management.”
Prof Klomp says any review of the drought-relief scheme needs to consider more recent developments such as greater international competition, higher fuel prices, tougher environmental expectations, and the possibility of a permanently altered climate.
Professor Kevin Parton, at CSU’s Orange campus, said the evolving and dynamic nature of sources of potential farm income should be considered by the policy review.
“Newly emerging markets – for example, for water, and carbon trading – could reduce the need for future drought assistance, as water and other farm resources are transferred to more efficient farms,” he said.
And organic farmers have also backed the review, welcoming comments by Mr Burke that farmers could be rewarded for protective land stewardship.
The Biological Farmers of Australia says organic farmers already practice many of the environmentally sustainable techniques which Mr Burke mentioned as being able to improve the viability of marginal land.