Prime Minister Tony Abbott met grazier Kym Cramp of “Mount Gipps” station near Broken Hill, NSW, as part of a drought tour with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has downplayed the role of climate change in the drought ravaging much of inland eastern Australia, and indicated the coming relief package for farmers will not take into account future increases in extreme weather events predicted by scientists.
At the end of a two-day tour to Bourke and Broken Hill in NSW and Longreach in Queensland, Mr Abbott said the current period of extreme heat and dry conditions – broken in part during his weekend visit – was not unusual for Australia.
Mr Abbott at the “Mount Gipps” station. Photo: Andrew Meares
”If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times,” Mr Abbott said.
”This is not a new thing in Australia.
“As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia.”
Mr Abbott, who has previously ruled out climate change as a factor in other disasters such as October’s early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, signalled a warming climate won’t feature in the drought-aid package he is expected to bring to cabinet.
Mr Abbott is likely to seek an extra $280 million in low-interest loans for farmers, among other measures such as assistance to curb soaring numbers of feral animals.
Touring the Mt Gipps cattle and sheep station north of Broken Hill on Monday, he said there was as “a world of difference” between companies seeking hand-outs and farmers needing help to get through the current drought.
“Farmers ought to be able to deal with things expected every few years,” Mr Abbott said.
“Once you start getting into very severe events, 1-in-20, 50, 100-year events, that’s when I think people need additional assistance because that is…beyond what a sensible business can be expected to plan for.”
Climate scientists have said Australia is already experiencing more frequent and more intense heatwaves, and can expect the number of hot days each year will continue to increase.
The three regions visited by Mr Abbott all had their hottest six-month period on record for the August-January period, with rainfall as little as a fifth of normal levels.
While the weekend’s rain, including Bourke’s heaviest one-day fall since November 2012 during Mr Abbott’s visit on Sunday, will go some way to helping farmers follow-up rain will be critical to any recovery, local farmers said.
Graziers have been offloading their livestock as they battle to cope with drought and declining feedstock.
John Cramp, owner of the Mt Gipps station, said the recent extreme heat in his region had seen his cattle remain near their water troughs rather than go in search of remaining grass.
“They won’t leave their water, they won’t poke out and get some feed,” Mr Cramp said.
He added that in his view, “climates have always changed”.
Prior to last weekend, Broken Hill’s average maximum temperatures in February were running about eight degrees above average for this time of year at more than 40 degrees.
January maximums were also more than three degrees above average.