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Drought policy uncertainty in face of big dry

Cath McAloon, Monday September 23, 2013 - 14:57 EST
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Drought-ravaged paddock near Longreach in outback southern Queensland. - ABC

Dire dry conditions come at a time when there is uncertainty about a national drought policy.

Large parts of northern Australia are facing dry conditions after a failed wet season and an exceptionally warm year.

The weather bureau says 2013 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded.

"If you look at the 12 months ending at the end of August, that was the warmest 12-month period we've ever had for Australia. And so far 2013 is tracking towards being either the warmest calendar year, or close to it, depending what happens in the last three months of course.

"It's certainly been an exceptionally warm 12 months or so," said climatologist Blair Trewin.

Professor Linda Botterill, a public policy specialist from the University of Canberra, says governments have been slow to respond to a review of drought policy and have not implemented any substantial new programs.

"The main program that was offered through the national drought policy, the Exceptional Circumstances program, has in fact been wound up."

She says drought-affected farmers are now in the most uncertain policy environment since the late 1980s.

A farm family support package has been introduced to address the welfare needs of farmers, but an interest rate subsidy has been abolished.

"At the moment the only replacement put in place has been a farm finance assistance package.

"That hasn't been in place very long and in my view it has got a number of flaws."

Professor Botterill says it would be useful to have a statement from State and Federal Governments on what they intend to do with drought policy.

"There's a great deal of uncertainty, the intergovernmental agreement that was signed in May didn't have an specificity, it was open-ended about what state governments could do as long as they operated within the principals of the policy."

Professor Botterill says now is not the right time to develop a drought policy.

"In the middle of a drought is a really bad time to be making drought policy," she said.

"Drought policy needs to be made when people are not under stress and they've got clear heads.

"So the risk of making policy at this time, when people are beginning to experience drought and it's worsening, is that governments will come in with kneejerk reactions which are not ideal."


© ABC 2013

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