Continuing my blog posts on salt …
Mick Keogh, from The Australian Farm Institute, wrote in the Australian Financial Review that,
“Dryland salinity is a challenge that Australian farmers must continue to deal with, and cannot ignore. However, successful future management will require …that all involved reject the crisis mentality, and instead become coolly objective about appropriate responses, which in many cases may be to ‘do nothing’.”
This was certainly not the approach that the National Farmers Federation (NFF) was advocating a few years ago. A few months before the detail of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality was announced,with the promise of $1.4 billion in funding, the NFF and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) made a claim for $65 billion!
At that time, the bogus dryland salinity audit, claiming 17 million hectares of farmland would be lost to salt, had not been released, but the NFF and member organisations knew its release was imminent.
This is what Wendy Craik, on behalf of the NFF, had to say to the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineers in November 2000:
“NFF’s membership was significantly encouraged to hear the Prime Minister himself acknowledge that compensation and incentives were necessary and key components of any implementation strategy for the National Salinity and Water Quality Action Plan.
Whilst we represent very different interests and viewpoints, NFF and ACF are under no illusions about the difficult choices we will face over the next decades. The sheer magnitude of the [environmental] threats facing us if we do nothing was a driving force behind the establishment of our alliance.
NFF and ACF – having identified the problem and put a figure on that cost, have proposed a five-point plan centred on:
1. a 10 year bipartisan commitment to tackling degradation;
2. national leadership by the Commonwealth Government;
3. a new scale of strategic investment;
4. strong private sector engagement; and
5. the active involvement of all Australians.
The future will be about repair and change to ensure agricultural production is sustainable and our natural heritage is conserved.
So how does the Salinity and Water Quality Action Plan, rate against the NFF/ACF proposal?
Bipartisan Commitment: We believe there has been acknowledgement by all sides of politics that the issues are so severe and pose such a threat to our resource base that action must be taken.
National Leadership: NFF and ACF warmly welcomed the leadership demonstrated by the Prime Minister in putting the plan to COAG and the commitment by COAG to its implementation. The significance of this commitment by COAG must not be underestimated, it is the first time that every leader of a Government in Australia has agreed to play its’ part in an integrated solution to an environmental issue.
A new scale of investment: It is fair to say the Action Plan is not of the magnitude of investment which NFF and ACF demonstrated was required. We believe the Action Plan offers the groundwork from which a long-term, sustained commitment of significant resources must be made.
Our estimate is that, over 10 years, the public contribution required to achieve sustainability targets will be at least $3.35 billion a year, together with an ongoing maintenance program of $320 million a year.
In terms of government expenditure, this represents $3.7 billion per year, over the next decade.
Given that we spend $43 billion per year on the health of the Australian population, is $3.7 billion too much to spend on the health of our country?
NFF believes that all levels of government should commit to increased and significant levels of financial resourcing to deal with dryland salinity.
This will need to be delivered in the form of a variety of incentives and direct investment.
And it will need to be delivered by working with land managers and communities in the transition to new production and natural resource management systems that will combat the degrading processes.
Strong Private sector engagement: Achieving sustainability targets in rural landscapes will require major management and land use changes over the next 10 to 20 years.
We estimate this will require an investment in the order of $65 billion over the next decade. Of which we estimate about $37 billion should come from government.”
The metropolitan media ran with the $65 billion figure for sometime along with interviews from leading conservationists and farmers … both communicating the same message that agriculture had destroyed the Murray Darling Basin, and the Australian landscape more generally, etcetera, etcetera.
At that time I was working for the Queensland sugar industry and I could not believe the damage NFF was doing to the reputation of Australian farmers … my protests fell on deaf ears. The focus was on securing money from the Action Plan, no one seemed to care too much about the long term implications of ‘crying wolf’ and so effectively.
I received a couple of phone calls from bureaucrats yesterday about my recent blog posts on salt. There is concern that problems still exist and that John Passioura’s paper “From Propaganda to Practicalities – the progressive evolution of the salinity debate” is not a completely accurate assessment of the situation. I am always keen to post the alternative perspective as a guest post, but someone needs to be prepared to articulate the case and put their name to it.
And while John Quiggin avoided comment at my post, he did start his own blog post on the issue, click here. Quiggin’s Federation Scholarship at the University of Queensland is on the topic of sustainability and the Murray Darling Basin, so I am surprised there not more interest in what the models have, and have not, accurately predicted by way of water quality and dryland salinity.