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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3505 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

There is still a prevailing romantic view that Australia generates its wealth off the sheep's back. However, the metaphorical sheep are now looking decidedly sick and wobbly. Governments need to start making some hard decisions about whether we want to continue to prop up unsustainable farms on marginal land. There may be a higher public and environmental benefit for the government just to buy this land back rather than pay out ongoing drought or other assistance.

We also need to question the sustainability of growing water intensive crops such as rice and cotton in a dry country like Australia. The recent CSIRO study on Australia's future population noted that rice uses a whopping 7,458 litres of water per dollar of output. By contrast, vegetables and fruit require only 379 litres. Another surprising statistic from this study is that Australia exports each year an estimated 4,000 gigalitres of embodied water in its agricultural products more than it imports, which is about the same amount used by the entire urban sector. As the report notes, if we receive relatively poor trade prices for these products, then the nation is suffering a double loss if funds are needed to repair the integrity of the inland river systems that have been degraded by agricultural production.

The current drought will hopefully end some time soon. However, there is an even bigger problem for Australia if we start to consider the impact of the greenhouse effect and global warming on Australia's climate. The CSIRO's latest predictions are that south-western Australia can expect decreases in rainfall, as can parts of south-eastern Australia and Queensland. Wetter conditions are possible in northern and eastern Australia in summer and in inland Australia in autumn. In areas that experience little change or an increase in average rainfall, more frequent or heavier downpours are likely. Conversely, there will be more dry spells in regions where average rainfall decreases.

Evaporation will increase over most of the country and, combined with changes in rainfall, will decrease available moisture across the country. It is very unfortunate that the federal Liberal government is choosing to stick its head in the sand over the greenhouse issue despite the growing scientific evidence that climate change is happening. They will be seen by history to have been entirely irresponsible.

I am therefore not prepared to support this motion, which calls on the ACT government to make an unspecified financial contribution to a superficial response to the environmental crisis in our rural sector. I would prefer that it spend its money on more constructive long-term responses to Australia's so far poor adaptation to our variable rainfall pattern.

MR CORNWELL (11.40): The ACT is often criticised by the rest of Australia for being selfish, self-centred and out of touch with reality.

Mrs Dunne: And we have just seen why.

MR CORNWELL: Indeed, Mrs Dunne. We have just seen why. I must admit I am surprised at the parsimonious approach of the government. I am amazed that people should question the bona fides of Farmhand members. I note there are no new union bosses on the committee, and there is no Bob Brown either. That perhaps is significant-I do not know.

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