A Prime Minister fail
Ihate to tell you, ‘I told you so’, and not because I was right on the Federal Government’s drought policy, because it would be so much better if I was wrong.
Let’s cast our minds back to when Scott Morrison became Prime Minister.
It might seem like time travel, but it’s only four months ago.
What was one of the very first things he did? A drought tour. Remember?
In my column at the time, I wrote: “The simple fact of the matter is governments have always grappled with drought policy and are yet to come up with a resounding solution. Let’s hope our new Prime Minister, for his sake at least, does more than just strut his stuff and then dust off his hat and head back to Canberra. If a very real commitment to supporting farmers isn’t given, it will be seen very clearly for what it is.”
Within a month we had all sorts of promises and appointments – a $5-billion future drought fund that no one seems quite sure how to spend, a drought summit, a national drought co-ordinator in Major General Stephen Day, and of course, the rather peculiar announcement of Barnaby Joyce as the special drought envoy. Very special indeed.
As one farmer put it to me, ‘Barnaby brought agriculture into focus when he was first elected. Since then, well, what an embarrassment’.
Frankly, Mr Joyce seems far too self-absorbed in his personal problems than he is on coming up with any meaningful national drought policy.
The day before the drought summit, I attended a Farmers for Climate Action conference.
Farmers and farm leaders across Australia were there.
The chitchat over lunch was, not surprisingly, general disappointment in the Federal Government’s inability to take climate change seriously.
A leading agricultural policy maker spoke of his fear the drought summit would be just another, ‘photo opportunity for the Federal Government to look as if it cares and is doing something about drought’.
This week was the Morrison government’s last chance.
The Council of Australia Governments meeting – you might be more familiar with the acronym COAG from – where a new inter-governmental drought agreement was reached.
By all reports, it was pretty much signing off on what drought assistance has already been available.
Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke was disappointed with what the agreement did not include.
“The only change that we really saw in the language was recognition that drought was a national issue,” Mr Jockhinke told County Today.
“We’ve really missed an opportunity at COAG to put that strategic framework in place for a national drought approach.”
He also said he received several phone calls a week from farmers venting their frustration at the lack of direction in federal climate change policy.
Hardly surprising with both the Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud unwilling to blame climate change on human activity.
To quote Mr Littleproud, ‘I don’t give a rat’s if it’s man-made or not’.
The PM must be breathing a sigh of relief at last week’s flooding rains across eastern Australia.
Nothing like a flood or two to take the attention away from drought policy.