Speech

FEDERATION CHAMBER

I move –

That this House:

(1) recognises:

(a) the Government’s commitment to future-proofing Australian agriculture, including the Future Drought Fund, and its action on climate change, including its commitment under the Paris Agreement to achieve a 26 to 28 per cent reduction in Australia’s emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 and to increase ambition over time under the Paris ambition mechanism; and

(b) the Opposition’s commitment to the future of Australian agriculture and to action on climate change mitigation and adaptation;

(2) notes:

(a) that climate change represents a serious and present threat to the Australian agricultural sector’s continued viability and international competitiveness;

(b) the calls from the National Farmers’ Federation for a coordinated national framework to drive productivity and profitability while recognising environmental stewardship, and for a carbon neutrality plan for all agricultural commodities by 2025; and

(c) the calls from the Australian Farm Institute and Farmers for Climate Action for the development of a national strategy on climate change and agriculture based on a consultative, co-design process involving government, industry, scientific research bodies, Australian farmers, and rural and regional communities;

(3) affirms that in order to ensure the continued flourishing of Australian agriculture into the future, the design and implementation of a national strategy on agriculture and climate change should include:

(a) funding for comprehensive research on the direct and indirect risks climate change poses to Australian agri-food systems, including risks to primary production, biosecurity, food processing, food safety, farmer health, key infrastructure, equity, animal welfare, export markets and farm inputs;

(b) targets for adapting Australian farming to climate change in the short, medium and long term;

(c) financial and technical support for a just transition by supporting farmers and regional communities to adapt to future climate conditions including adoption of climate-resilient crops and regenerative farming and land use practices, investment in technology and infrastructure, and development of new rural industries;

(d) a long term plan to promote clean energy in rural and regional communities, including community and privately owned renewables projects that can provide sustainable, alternative income to land owners during drought;

(e) a mechanism to compensate farmers and land owners for ecosystem services they provide, including land-based carbon sequestration as a route to achieve net carbon neutrality of other sectors; and

(f) a plan to accelerate global emissions reductions by exporting Australian technology, research and expertise; and

(4) calls on the Government to develop a national strategy on climate change and agriculture that reflects these components.

Across the floor of this parliament, across the nation, I’m calling for us to find our common ground and determine our agricultural future. Today I’m calling on the government to take real action and secure the future of agriculture in this hotter and drier Australia.

As we stand here, Australia is in the grip of an immense and devastating drought. Last week, fruitgrowers in the lower Darling turned off their taps for the last time. They’re leaving the land because it can no longer support their crops. Australia has always faced droughts, and this drought, like always, will pass—but others will follow. What we face now is something more profound than what we’ve seen before. What we face now is a world in which our patterns of rainfall, sun, frost and heat are shifting. What we face now is a breakdown in the climate which has sustained people in this place for millennia.

The government yesterday announced funding for dams in New South Wales. I applaud this investment, but water infrastructure is only one part of the answer for one part of the country. This is not enough to futureproof Australian agriculture in a changing climate. As a country, we’ve set ourselves a lofty goal of growing agriculture to a $100 billion industry by 2030. I wholeheartedly support that goal, but we won’t achieve it without a plan to address our changing climate, a plan for agriculture that we all sign up to.

Last week, the CSIRO released projections showing that in this century my home state of Victoria could warm by almost five degrees. The great rivers of the Victorian Alps in my electorate of Indi, rivers which feed the Murray-Darling Basin, will shrink, with spring rains declining by 35 per cent. What will we grow in a country that looks like this? How many more Australian farmers will end up like those fruit growers in the lower Darling because their world changed and we failed them? The answer depends on what we do now.

Doing nothing means agricultural production will decline 17 per cent in the next 30 years. According to ANU climate scientist Will Steffen, that will mean losses of more than $200 billion. Doing nothing is not an option. It’s not an option for agriculture and it’s not an option for rural communities or for the 93 per cent of us who are fed by the food produced by Australian farmers.

Instead, this motion calls for a plan to change course in six concrete ways.

First, such a plan must include significant and focused funding for research on how farming can thrive into the future. We need an Apollo program for farming. Second, we need to set targets for adaptations that drive investment in new crop varieties, in new livestock and in farming systems. Third, we need to support regional communities to adapt to our future climate, and that includes a health policy that recognises the impact of climate in rural Australia. If, as the Climate Council warns, 70 per cent of temperate wine regions will be unsuitable for grape growing within 30 years, then we need a plan for the 16,000 people employed in the wine industry.

Fourth, we need a plan to roll out clean energy in regional Australia. Instead of being a country that pays foreign companies to pump oil, we could be one that pays farmers to harvest the sun and the wind. Fifth, we need to pay farmers for the ecosystem services that they already provide. The Emissions Reduction Fund’s last auction abated just 0.001 per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions. We need simpler ways for farmers to earn money from carbon farming. And it’s not just carbon: farmers who restore native vegetation and improve water quality do society a favour, and they should be rewarded for that. The NFF has called for a $1 billion ecosystem services fund, and that’s a great place to start. Finally, we need a plan to accelerate global emissions reductions by exporting our technology and our expertise. If the rest of the world continues to emit unabated, it will spell the end of farming here. So, if we care about farming, we need to build a zero carbon future here and sell it to the world.

In the past, Australia has shown that we can focus our efforts on great threats and move quickly and smartly to capture great opportunities. We’re all custodians of this land. It is our common ground. And that’s what we need to do in order to protect it. So I commend this motion to the House, and I urge all my colleagues to do the same.

Read Tim Fischer's agricultural legacy