The president of the National Farmers’ Federation, Fiona Simson, has declared that climate change is making drought worse in Australia and says tiptoeing around the subject does not do regional communities any good.
“It is the effect of climate change we need to be aware of that makes the impacts of a drought even worse,” she told the National Press Club.
“As a community, we want to talk about it and the more discussions we have about and the more open people are in talking about it, then the less uncomfortable it becomes.
“But we absolutely have to talk about it and some of the issues that people tiptoe around because they’re worried about offending people or having a discussion about it, then it doesn’t do us any good as a community.”
Simson, a farmer on the Liverpool Plains, described agriculture as a diverse industry and she was highly critical of much of the current media drought coverage of the broken farmer dependent on handouts.
“I use those words “managing drought” deliberately because managing the drought is exactly what we are doing,” she said.
“Many farmers, including me, take offence to the betrayals of the broken-down, handout dependent farmer profile peddled by many members of the media. That simply is not us.”
She was critical of the government for allowing regional communities to cope with drought in the absence of a “comprehensive national framework to deal with drought”.
“Successive governments have had a go, but we are still without certainty that a national strategy would actually provide. In fact, agriculture in its entirety is to date without a whole-of-government national strategy for plan at all.”
In another significant shift in the NFF, Simson also described Indigenous Australians as Australia’s “first farmers” in both her opening acknowledgement of country and her address.
“May I acknowledge Australia’s first farmers, in particular the Ngunnawal people on whose land we meet today,” she said. “I pay my respects to elders past and and acknowledge their historic and continuing role in what is a great story of Australian agriculture.”
“Drought is not a new phenomenon for farmers. Since farming first started under the auspices of our First Australians, drought has been a part of the landscape and a regular part of the farm business cycle.”
Climate change has been a vexed topic for the farm lobby for the past two decades. In 2007, when then prime minister John Howard and Labor opposition leader Kevin Rudd both agreed on action, the NFF said climate change might be the “greatest threat” confronting farmers and their ability to put food on Australian table and the lobby group backed an emissions trading scheme.
After Malcolm Turnbull’s first leadership spill in 2009 over emissions policies which saw Tony Abbott win the Liberal leadership, bipartisanship on climate change ended and the NFF went quiet until Simson took the presidency. In 2017, she recognised that climate change posed a significant challenge for Australian farmers and called for cost-efficient emissions reductions.
As parts of Australia slide into their seventh year of drought and media coverage places increasing pressure on politicians, Simson’s address was the NFF’s most forthright message on climate change yet to government.
It comes less than two weeks after Coalition’s latest energy policy, the National Energy Guarantee, preceded the leadership coup against Malcolm Turnbull.
Simson said while every drought was different, this season was the worst on her farm since 1965 and had “taken many experienced and savvy farmers by surprise”.
“We are at the front line of climate change, increasingly erratic seasons, out-of-season rainfall or no rainfall at all and longer, hotter summers.”
But Simson also pushed back against the suggestion that reducing emissions required culling huge livestock numbers – a suggestion covered in major newspapers that she described as “totally histrionic”.
“I’m sure there are those out there reading that thinking it’s true when you have the peak red meat body (Meat and Livestock Australia) forecasting zero [emissions] by 2030 and a huge drop between 2005 and 15 on current modelling, so I think for me it is about having a conversation as a community,” she said
First published at The Guardian Australia. Wednesday 29 August 2018.