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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3501 ..

MR WOOD (continuing):

Mr Humphries said he did not want to make this a political issue. I am not sure about that. There are a number of ways of doing things around this Assembly. You can grandstand on something and make a big claim, or you can take a run before anybody else does. If you are really serious about something, you can negotiate with others in the place, with the government in particular, and see what chance you have. That is the way you would do it if you did not want to run it as a political issue. Then if you are not getting support, by all means take your run. I am not absolutely convinced that Mr Humphries did it the way he should have done it if it was not to be a political issue.

MS DUNDAS (11.24): I believe every member of this chamber is concerned at the impact of the current period of low rainfall on Australia. We recently saw some of the effects as tonnes of topsoil were dumped by storms across Canberra, covering our city in a thick layer of red dust.

Australia has always had a highly variable rainfall pattern, and its climate volatility means that our capacity for agricultural production is also highly volatile. I doubt that anyone disputes that periods like this cause increased hardship and anxiety in rural Australia, as the rural economy is highly dependent on changing climate conditions. The impact is also felt by our ecological communities, which are already under stress from unsustainable development and a loss of water for irrigation.

However, the hardship is exacerbated by the way European settlers have treated the Australian landscape. The wholesale use of European agricultural methods for over 200 years has not been suited to the Australian climate or the characteristics of our soils. Australian governments, both state and federal, need to work harder to adapt our means of agricultural production to our unique ecology.

What we are calling drought is a fairly regular occurrence here in Australia. Our native plants and animals have evolved numerous adaptations to cope with both variable rainfall and fire in the Australian landscape. Increasing climate research has produced a more in-depth understanding of Australian climate patterns, of phenomena such as the El Nino effect and how it is linked to the amount of rainfall Australia receives in any given year. Growing sophistication in climate forecasting and development of indices such as the southern oscillation index are making climate prediction more accurate so that primary producers may be able to better plan for dry periods.

One way perhaps to prevent devastating losses that occur during low rainfall periods is to better structure the agricultural economy to take into account the volatility of our climate. Droughts are part of the Australian climate and are becoming increasingly more predictable. Agricultural industries that make long-term plans assuming a constant level of rainfall from year to year are hopelessly unrealistic. Our governments need to be investing in education and industry restructuring to take into account the realities of the Australian environment.

Recently, we heard the idea of turning the rivers inland. But we need to realise that Australia cannot be drought-proofed; that ideas like this will not work. Instead, we need more efficient and sustainable management of our current water resources and our current agricultural industries.

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