Yesterday, 16 faiths from around Australia called for urgent action on climate change. Today, the people John Howard has referred to as ‘part of the psyche of this country’ have spoken out — the National Farmers Federation have announced that their peak policy making body has “made a unanimous decision to join with the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change in calling for early action on climate change.”

This is significant stuff. If the akubra loving Prime Minister is going to listen to anyone, it’ll be the farmers. After all, he has dubbed them “part of the psyche of this country” and “part of the essence of Australia.” And the essence of Australia has spoken:

“NFF believes that climate change may be the greatest threat confronting Australian farmers and their productive capacity… now and in the future,” NFF President David Crombie said. “Today’s announcement, and our keenness to engage, reflects this reality.

“It threatens Australia’s agricultural productive base – an important contributor to the national economy, the ability for Australian farmers to put food on the table of Australian families, and the long-term sustainability of at least 60% of Australia’s landmass.

“There’s a great deal of potential for farmers when it comes to dealing with climate change and a serious response to climate change would release that potential,” Sky Laris from the Climate Change Institute told Crikey.

“Farmers are business people too, and business is seeing a real need to push this along,” says Laris. “For a long time business has looked for a clear regulatory framework and they’re not getting it, and so they’re speaking up. They need to know what the rules of the game are going to be when it comes to carbon trading to be able to plan ahead…. “

So is this suggesting that the Howard government’s drought relief package is not enough? After all, as the PM pledged back in October to “never shut failing farms” , in the same breath he urged that it was important “not to overdo the link” between the drought and climate change.

“Obviously drought assistance in the short term is about providing for families who are doing it tough and we welcome that and have lobbied for it,” Ben Fargher from the National Farmers Federation told Crikey.  

“But in a longer term sense, we want to engage with all relevant bodies that are talking about climate change. Given there’s a lot of policy debate around climate change at the moment, our farmers feel very strongly that we need to be involved in that.”

“Droughts come and go and we’re not saying that climate change is the prime cause but the science will tell you that it’s making the impact worse and we need to manage the risk,” says Fargher.

“There’s potential opportunities and potential risks and we want to understand both… We want the views of agriculture to be heard,” says Fargher.  

“We’ve been talking about climate change for some time and the potential risk, that’s not necessarily new,” says Fargher, “but I think the general public have engaged in a lot of discussion about this, and farmers are telling us we want to be part of the solution, we want to be part of policy…” 

Peter Fray

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