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Parliamentary Questions

Question Without Notice No. 160 asked in the Legislative Council on 10 March 2020 by Hon Robin Scott

Parliament: 40 Session: 1

Answered on

DROUGHT RELIEF

160. Hon ROBIN SCOTT to the Minister for Agriculture and Food:

I refer to my previous questions on drought in Western Australia, noting the minister has consistently refused to acknowledge there is a drought. I also note the reports yesterday that the Minister for Water, Dave Kelly, has declared an unprecedented tenth region in WA water deficient.

(1) Does the Western Australian government acknowledge that there is a drought in regional WA?

(2) If no to (1), what circumstances will require the minister to declare that there is a drought in WA?

(3) Does the minister have any plans to personally visit the federal Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management and ask for federal drought relief funding; and, if not, why not?

Hon ALANNAH MacTIERNAN replied:

I thank the member for the question.

(1)–(3) Previously, I have gone through the history, over the last 40 years, of the notion of drought declaration. I could not have been clearer that using the words ''drought'' and ''drought declaration'' does not actually do anything—right? In the past, I have tabled documents. I think last time we met, I tabled meteorological charts that show we had an exceptionally bad 2019 in terms of rainfall performance. But there has been some good news since then. I also tabled the chart of the previous year's rainfall that shows that in 2017–18, unlike the eastern states, we actually had average or above rainfall. I will also table this map, which I am sure will make the member very happy, showing the rainfall from December 2019 to February 2020. The companion map of rainfall decile ranges shows that much of the state did very well over those three months. But it is true that there is an area on the eastern side of the great southern and the western side of the goldfields–Esperance region that has, notwithstanding, missed out on that rain, and we are providing assistance.

I have now met twice with Minister Littleproud to discuss these issues. In addition to that, Minister Kelly and I have written twice to him. We are saying that our fundamental problem is not just that we had a bad 2019. Although I do want members to understand that, notwithstanding that rainfall, our farmers still had above-average incomes last year. That is not all of them, but we want to be careful that we are not presenting agriculture in WA as a basket case. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences figures that came out recently showed that even after that pretty challenging year, farm incomes really held up quite well.

I will say that what we have is not just a drought. It is not a cyclical thing. We have steadily declining rainfall over the southern half of the state. It is steadily declining rainfall. Some interesting information came out yesterday about the Indian Ocean Dipole. Studies have shown that these extreme events, like we had in 2019, are in fact going to become more frequent. We are not just looking for a short-term handout; we are looking for engagement with the federal government so we can start doing something really constructive about rehydrating the land and accessing more water. We have programs like the proposed southern rangelands regeneration program that look at the old palaeochannels and how we might make on-farm desalination work financially for many farmers. We have a range of these programs we are putting to the federal government, because, members, it is wrong to think that this is just a cyclical drought; it is a long-term decline in our rainfall that is a consequence of climate change and we have to address it in a systematic way.

[See paper 3656.]