Governments Response to Drought

Constitutionally, Australia is a federation of effectively seven states (figure 29.1) with governments at both federal and state levels concerned with agriculture and drought. With respect to drought monitoring, the federal government is responsible for meteorological observations through the National Climate Center of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (http://www.bom.gov.au). The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS; http:// www.abs.gov.au) compiles, at a district level, annual statistics on crop production and livestock numbers from individual properties. Similarly, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (http://www. abare.gov.au) conducts annual surveys to obtain district-level economic information. The federal government is responsible for policy development through the portfolio of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry-Australia (http://www.affa.gov.au) and the Bureau of Resource Sciences (http:// www.brs.gov.au), for objective analysis of claims for "exceptional circumstances" assistance. The federal government also sponsors national-scale research projects through various funding agencies (e.g., http://www.cvap. gov.au). State governments are responsible for land-use including drought management, drought monitoring, and, in some cases, administration of drought relief.

During severe droughts, the federal government provides welfare support to eligible primary producers and, together with some state governments, provides various forms of business support. The national drought policy, established in 1992, proposed that federal government support would be initiated once it was ascertained that rainfall and agronomic conditions were rare and severe enough as to be likely to occur only once in 20-25 years and to last more than 12 months. The "drought exceptional circumstances" (DEC) policy revolved around the assessment of six criteria: meteorological conditions; agronomic and stock conditions; water supplies; environmental impacts; farm income levels; and scale of the event. In 1997, the federal government broadened the concept of DEC to include exceptional events other than drought (e.g., insect plagues, disease, and water logging). Based on new declaration procedures for exceptional circumstances (EC) approved in 1999, economic criteria now take precedence in determining whether federal government assistance is warranted (White, 2000). Each Australian state has its own approach to managing droughts, but state governments are working with the federal government to align details of the drought policies and the development of objective criteria for government intervention.

Government intervention has, in the past, aimed to help primary producers survive drought. Government policies now aim to further increase the self-reliance of primary producers during drought. To this end, governments and primary producers are looking at ways to better manage and plan for rainfall variability.

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