Thursday, October 17, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Drought doubts
Bipartisanship is not an end in itself

Shadow minister for agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon

Is Labor’s drought “war cabinet” its answer to conflict fatigue? Can Australians trust Joel Fitzgibbon, who wants to lower Opposition ambition on emissions reduction, to work with the Coalition’s climate deniers – particularly among the Nationals – and come up with a rational drought policy? The idea is riddled with contradictions. Bipartisanship cannot be an end in itself, especially when the federal government is full of bad faith. The Future Drought Fund remains unspent. The promise to build more dams – whether or not one agrees with it – has been broken. The Murray–Darling Basin has been trashed. A handful of irrigators hold gigalitres in storage while rural towns and rivers run dry. As drought envoy, Barnaby Joyce delivered diddly squat. Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud is all over the shop when it comes to climate change. The final report of drought coordinator-general Stephen Day remains hidden, while the government prays for rain. Who could bipartisan with that?

The National Farmers Federation yesterday called for a drought committee and a drought forum to come up with measures that will build on COAG’s National Drought Agreement and end the reactive drought policy cycle. NFF President Fiona Simson said on ABC Radio’s RN Breakfast this morning that the NFF was calling for, in a word, “planning”. Getting nearer to the nub of the issue, Simson said the country should be planning for regular droughts, adding “if you think of climate change they could well be much worse and exacerbated by those impacts”. Simson stopped short of calling for the government to raise its ambitions on climate, however.

Minister for Water Resources David Littleproud followed up with his own circular Joh-speak, telling RN Breakfast that “our response has been one of being responsive to the situation as it evolves”. Right. Littleproud went on to blather about the government spending millions to help farmers adapt to climate change, which makes no sense when the government is also subsidising the fossil-fuel industry to the tune of billions to make the climate change faster – and is also helping farmers embark on a land-clearing spree that will do likewise, as Guardian Australia reports today. Adaptation without real mitigation is idiotic.

Instead of making grand gestures, Joel Fitzgibbon was on firmer ground on 7.30 last night when he talked about how six years of government inaction threaten our food security, and how farmers need two things, especially if they’d lost their Farm Household Allowance: cash, and cash flow. “Cash to put food on the tables to get farming families through this terrible drought, and cash flow so that the farm operation can continue to the other end of this drought, which I hope is not too far away.”

Fitzgibbon kept it up today, after Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie announced legislation to overhaul the allowance scheme, promising to provide drought relief for those who have exhausted their four years on the FHA. “The Bill will also allow for farmers to receive the FHA payment four years in every decade; make it easier for more farmers to access the payment by lifting the amount families can earn off-farm to $100,000 a year; and allow farmers to count income from agistment against their losses,” the announcement claimed. Fitzgibbon slammed the claims as misleading, saying the “immediate support” would only be available to about 1100 farmers this year, and that farmers who’d been kicked off FHA would not be eligible until 2024.

More importantly, unlike Barnaby Joyce, Fitzgibbon was abundantly sympathetic to the plight of farmers: “You know, the test of viability, Leigh, which is an important test, is not whether you can make it through the seventh or eighth year of the worst drought in our history. There are of course many farms that have been in this sort of marginal column for a long time and are shifting into the unviable column for a range of reasons.” A range of reasons, and one big fat one: global warming, which Fitzgibbon acknowledged was “contributing significantly”.

So why can’t Fitzgibbon get real about climate? In an excellent op-ed [$] in The Australian Financial Review this morning, member for Warringah Zali Steggall cites Deloitte figures showing that the economic cost of natural disasters, which are on the increase as climate change continues, is forecast to more than double to $39 billion a year by 2050. She calls for a conscience vote in parliament to recognise the climate emergency as a starting point for a British-style consensus and a legislative framework to lock in a credible long-term path to cutting emissions.

That’s a non-partisan approach worth pursuing. A silver lining from the re-election of a federal government without a credible policy on energy, climate or drought is that many in the community and business have taken action into their own hands. The parliament will catch up eventually.


“When it comes to climate change, policymakers have to act on the basis of the best science available. We rely on the intelligence agencies to give us the best advice on security threats. And, of course, final decisions always rest with us as the elected representatives. The same model should apply to climate matters and almost everything else infringing on our health and natural and the natural world.”

Outgoing Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos, delivering his valedictory speech last night before leaving to become Australia’s ambassador to the United States.

“Kristina Keneally is completely off the reservation, she is dragging even Anthony Albanese to the left on border protection matters. She wants to bring these foreign terrorists into our country. She doesn’t want to kick the bikers out and she’s happy for the boats to restart.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton lets loose on 2GB after Labor and the Greens reached a deal that would allow up to 4000 asylum-seekers who came by boat to remain in the country for more than 500 days.

Cash and the black economy
New legislation will restrict the way Australians use cash. But there are concerns the laws could jail people for using legal tender.


Australia’s ranking for fixed broadband speeds, out of 175 countries, according to the latest Global Broadband Speed Test by Ookla. This puts Australia below Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Serbia.

“The centrepiece of the new bill is a binding, enforceable code of conduct for all ministers, parliamentarians and senior staffers. The Greens’ bill requires all politicians to respect others, to avoid conflicts of interest, to act with integrity, and to ensure that power and public resources are always used in the public interest. It would establish new independent enforcement agent with teeth, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who can investigate breaches of the code of conduct and take action when politicians’ behaviour fails to meet public expectations.”

Greens spokesperson for democracy Larissa Waters announces the party’s new ministerial standards bill in the wake of the inquiry into the post-ministerial appointments of Julie Bishop and Christopher Pyne.

The list

“The August 1993 edition of Australian Penthouse was possibly a world first, and may yet be a world last. Its centrefold is an authorised, professionally produced selection of celebrity pornography, capturing the marital intimacies of a couple at the apex of their fame. They are Warwick Capper, freshly retired from a storied VFL/AFL football career, and his then wife, Joanne Capper. The Cappers are posed together in a series of sensual and sometimes shocking tableaux not readily forgotten.”

“Lawrence displayed a breathtaking sense of entitlement and confidence that he would get away with it. And from 1991 until July 26, 2019, he did. As a society we have puzzled over why so many senior clergy protected abusers and moved them on. This awful case shows that it wasn’t always simply about protecting the church’s reputation. In some instances, those responsible for the protection of the vulnerable were paedophiles themselves.”

“Energy Minister Angus Taylor insists Malcolm Turnbull is wrong to claim the government’s policy is incoherent, because carbon emissions and energy prices are both falling. Except the government’s own figures show this claim to be wrong, or at the very least a giant fudge. Total yearly emissions have been rising every year since Tony Abbott scrapped Labor’s carbon price in 2014.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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