Before again giving billions of dollars to agricultural businesses, our governments should have their feet held to the fire to get a straight answer about that spending in the name of transparency and honesty.
New South Wales on Monday doubled its “emergency drought relief” subsidy for the state’s farmers, making it a neat $1 billion. That’s on top of federal government drought assistance, which I’d tip will soon be increased.
Government support of Australian agricultural businesses is as regular as drought – a sure thing every decade or so. And as certain as creeks running dry, the support coincides with plentiful media coverage of the heartbreaking reality of farming families losing stock and crops.
The stories are the same, drought after drought, just the names of stricken farmers change. If the television cameras are really lucky, they’ll focus in close and find tears on a brave farm woman’s face.
The stories stir a fine community desire to help, some of it personal, most of it via government.
But before handing over significant amounts to subsidise one type of business that’s regularly in trouble (failing video stores didn’t receive government assistance, newspapers don’t get government subsidies), government ministers should be required to explain exactly what is going on.
So, as a public service to help journalists interviewing ministers announcing drought relief, I’ve prepared this handy cheat sheet, starting with the key question about agricultural policy.
- Minister, is this drought the result of climate change? (If the answer is “no”, go to question 7.)
- If it’s climate change then, not just regular Australian weather, is this aid a waste of money? A mere Band-Aid when there’s a bigger problem?
- What exactly is your government’s climate change policy?
- Given that we are one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters on a per capita basis, do we need to move to a zero-emissions energy policy to have credibility in encouraging global change?
- Would the NSW government’s billion dollars in farm aid be better spent investing in renewable energy?
- Should the money at least be spent on increasing farmers’ drought resistance, rather than temporary assistance such as transport subsidies?
- If this drought is not related to climate change, it’s not a natural disaster, is it? It’s just our usual climate of insufficient water every decade or so?
- Viable farmers have been managing drought for the past couple of hundred years, and they now have farm management deposits to smooth out the financial impact of good and bad seasons – why throw another billion dollars at them?
- Is there a contradiction in the price of farm land continuing to rise when farms apparently aren’t viable?
- Are farms simply too expensive? Is there a bubble in the price of agricultural land that needs to pop to help farms become sustainable?
- Why are agricultural businesses given such special assistance when many other businesses in trouble are not?
- Should assistance be aimed at helping non-viable farms exit the industry, rather than propping them up, delaying the inevitable?