The Guardian 15 June, 2005

Dry government no solution for a dry nation

Recently, NSW joyfully received its first heavy rain for weeks. The drought has hit the whole of the nation, but particularly the eastern states. Some 91 percent of NSW has now been officially declared drought-affected, and both rural and city dwellers are feeling the new weather pattern’s savage bite.

Irrigating farms, growing cotton and rice, are still sucking in obscene amounts of water, and dehydrating downstream farms. Prime Minister John Howard has said that his new national water-sharing scheme would be "respectful to the legitimate expectation of the irrigators".

Wheat crops are expected to plummet. Farmers got a lucky reprieve last year when they sowed their crops after one of the few periods of heavy rain, but they may not be so lucky again. The economy is expected to suffer a $4 billion loss from the drought this year, with major rises in the cost of meat and vegetables.

Sydney’s water supplies are down to 38 percent of their full capacity — a record low. There is hardly a green leaf in Goulburn as its water supplies near the "almost out" stage.

The Howard government has offered some financial assistance to struggling farmers and graziers, but there is no sign that the government will sign the Kyoto Protocol — the very first and most basic step it needs to take to combat global warming and its devastating effects for Australian agriculture.

Indeed, in public statements the government only mentions global warming in connection with proposals to build nuclear power stations. It appears they never raise global-warming when discussing the drought with rural Australians.

NSW Premier Bob Carr has said that climate change will cause parts of our land mass to become permanently arid. This is exactly what climate scientists have been predicting for Australia because of global warming.

Carr is all for nuclear power, talking it up as a "clean" energy source, while only a few months ago he approved the opening of a new coal mine in the Hunter Valley against the wishes of the local community. In this case the opposition to the mine was not just about greenhouse gases but also the threat the mine poses to local water supplies.

"Blind spots"

Governments around the nation have exhibited "blind spots" in dealing with the drought and changing weather patterns. For example, the NSW Minister for Water, Frank Sartor, has completely dismissed the idea of treating and recycling Sydney’s waste water. Ignoring the successful experience of Londoners with this technology, he sneered that this would result in Sydneysiders "drinking sewerage".

On the whole governments are still failing to address major causes of global warming such as carbon dioxide emissions from industry, power stations and motor vehicles. They are still to acknowledge in practice the pressing need for the development of alternative energy sources and such measures as the provision of efficient rail and other public transport systems (to tempt motorists off the road).

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