Drought continues to grip the country, with New South Wales and Queensland facing the worst of it. Meanwhile, the government refuses to take the action necessary to protect farmers and rural workers from ruin, to develop a drought plan, and to implement policies to deal with climate change.
The drought continues because south-eastern Australia has experienced exceptionally low rainfalls. This is expected to continue as the Bureau of Meteorology predicts a dry spring. This year’s winter was actually Australia’s fifth warmest ever recorded.
It is now beyond doubt that climate change is having disastrous effects in Australia, with the current drought being a manifestation of this.
The extent of the drought is extraordinary. In New South Wales, as of June, 99% of the state was in drought, in drought onset, or on drought watch. While in Queensland, as of May, 57% of the state was in drought conditions. This was fortunately down from 87% last year due to unseasonable rain in the northern part of the state.
Parts of South Australia are affected too, with about 15% of the state in drought, as well as parts of Victoria.
The federal government has made some small and pitiful relief available to small farmers but it is nowhere near enough. In addition to the Farm Household Allowance, which like Newstart provides recipients with poverty-level payments, the government announced a package that would provide cash payments to farmers of up to $12,000.
This however is barely enough to buy a load of hay and will not see farmers through the dry spring and summer predicted this year.
The small amount of relief for farmers from the federal government stands in stark contrast to the generosity of ordinary people, who have rushed to support charitable efforts in support of struggling farmers, such as purchasing hay bales or buying a ‘parma for a farmer’.
A video tweeted by Scott Morrison in September gives an insight into why support from the government for struggling farmers is so pitiful.
The video features a feed lot operator calling the drought a “necessary evil [to] cut out the bottom 10% [of farmers]”, in other words, they are saying that the most struggling farmers deserve to be ruined.
It is clear that the government doesn’t care about small and medium farmers, but only for the larger farms and agribusinesses. These are the interests that fund the Liberal and National parties. It is these people who will profit from the ruin of smaller farmers.
Because of the effect of the drought, and the warming and drying climate, more and more people are increasingly acknowledging the reality of climate change.
A new advertisement from the Australian Conservation Foundation features farmers talking about how climate change is exacerbating drought in Australia, and how it has made droughts more frequent.
The farmers call for “politicians to stop dancing around the issue and help us to do something about [climate change]”. Hundreds of farmers also recently rallied at parliament in Canberra demanding serious action be taken.
A plan to deal with both drought and climate change is desperately needed. Part of that plan needs to address farming and water conservation methods.
But dealing with all of these issues within the profit-driven framework of capitalism will not be possible. The system itself is a barrier to undertaking effective action on climate change, since it is profits, rather than the needs of people and the environment, that comes first.
For this same reason capitalism is also a barrier to effectively dealing with drought. Only a planned system, that removed the profit motive and used our land and resources in a sustainable way, would be capable of overcoming drought and hardship.
At the same time this is the only way to reduce our emissions and impact on the environment, therefore reducing the frequency of extreme weather events.
A socialist plan to deal with drought and climate change would include:
*Investment in renewable energy and public transport to lower greenhouse gas emissions
*A national plan for water conservation that acknowledges the reality of climate change
*Public ownership of the big banks in order to extend low interest loans to small farmers
*Investment in science and technology to improve farming techniques and develop new crops
*Public ownership of agribusiness and a nation-wide plan for sustainable food production
*A minimum wage of at least $25 an hour for rural workers plus decent conditions
*Public ownership of the big supermarkets and price controls to ensure low prices and decent farm-gate payments
By Dane Letcher