Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently toured drought stricken areas of north-west New South Wales and southern Queensland, promising that his government was close to finalising subsidies to farmers affected by the drought.
The National Climate Centre says in the past two years “most of Queensland and New South Wales inland of the Great Dividing Range as well as much of South Australia have received less than 70% of their long-term average rainfall, with a substantial area having received less than half the average for the period.”
The drought coincides with Australia’s warmest year on record last year and another summer of record-breaking heatwaves.
But Abbott denied the drought is connected to Australia’s changing climate. In the same way he dismissed a link between climate change and the recent bushfires, he said on February 17: “If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times.
“As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia.”
Greens leader Christine Milne called Abbott’s drought tour a “public relations exercise”.
“It's cruel and craven to tell farmers you care about them and the drought when you are doing everything you can to tear down global warming policy that will help them in the long term,” she said.
“The Prime Minister's drought tour is little more than a public relations exercise. He is the friend of fossil fuel polluters, not farmers.”
Abbott cannot acknowledge the role of climate change in making drought and bushfires worse — which are increasingly hurting the livelihoods of ordinary people — because he would then be forced to reign in the biggest climate polluting industries in Australia.
That would mean limiting the amount of coal, oil and gas Australia produces and ending the super-profits of the country’s most powerful mining corporations.
But without taking climate change into account, the government is incapable of creating long-term policy that can help farmers better survive drought.
Giving subsidies to farmers to stay on their farms, while ignoring the evidence that climate change will make farming in some areas more and more difficult, will leave farmers high and dry in the long term.
Almost all Australia’s farms are family-owned and operated, but the average farming age has risen to 55, as young people are put off by the economic and environmental challenges of farming.
Farmers should not be forced off the land, but instead be subsidised to switch to sustainable farming practices and help fight climate change. They can do this by raising the amount of carbon locked in the soil through methods such as carbon sequestration in pastures, holistic grazing and permanent reforestation.
Australian agriculture is an essential part of Australia's economy, society and environment, and for it to survive we must take action to stop climate change.