The National Farmers’ Federation has expressed disappointment in the Council of Australian Government (COAG)’s failure to launch work towards a comprehensive national drought policy at its meeting this week.
The Council made a decision to develop a ‘National Drought Agreement’ which acknowledges the importance of national action to tackle drought.
While welcoming this recognition, NFF president Fiona Simson said the outcome fell well short of the national drought policy the NFF has called for.
“Drought impacts rural and regional communities; food availability and price; our trade balance, and our ability to maintain Australia’s natural resource base.
“Ultimately, all Australians would be better served by an all-of-Government approach to managing drought.”
Ms Simson said governments had a critical role in assisting farmers and rural and regional communities manage drought.
“This role will only become more important as the implications of a warming, more variable climate, bears down.
“The National Drought Agreement sets out important goals and principles but is not a practical or coordinated strategy for building national drought resilience,” Ms Simson said.
“We welcome the inclusion of the Future Drought Fund announced at the Prime Minister’s National Drought Summit, a commitment to improve weather and other information, and an explicit reference to continue providing rural financial counselling services.”
However, Ms Simson said the Agreement lacked detailed consideration of specific drought programs as well as broader programs, such as infrastructure and red tape, that also impact on the nation’s ability to weather drought.
“It lacks a coordination mechanism linking governments, industry and community groups and a mechanism to assess the effectiveness of drought preparedness and support programs.”
Ms Simson said the ‘progress reporting framework’ to plot the implementation of the Agreement does not identify common benchmarks or metrics for measuring progress. Nor does it allow for any independent input or assessment from outside Government.
“Drought is a recurring feature of life in Australia. Unless we have the data that shows which programs actually help build resilience, we will continue to repeat past mistakes with each drought,” Ms Simson said.
“We encourage Australia’s governments to utilise the National Drought Agreement as a starting point only for the discussion on a national drought policy.”