Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Two Drought Policies

By Simon Grose

How you cope with long dry spells depends a lot on your place in the evolutionary tree.

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If you were one of those outback frogs that spend droughts underground in a self-induced coma you might have been lured to the surface in February when the first real rain for almost 18 months fell on western NSW and Queensland.

You would probably have been spawned almost 2 years earlier when that part of the world was in flood. Those were La Niña days, so La Niña that in April 2012 the then-Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig declared that the whole continent was officially drought-free for the first time in more than a decade.

As you stretched your webs and cranked up your mating croak you may have wondered how the humans who have generally buggered the joint had been coping while you were snoozing.

When you were a speck of spawn they had a drought system based on “Exceptional Circumstances”. If a region was declared by the National Rural Advisory Council to be suffering “EC”, farmers and small businesses in that region were eligible for income support, interest subsidies and grants.

Over the first decade of this century this cost almost $5 billion, with a peak in 2008 when 69% of the continent was drought-declared. In that year state and federal governments agreed that the EC system was “no longer the most appropriate way to provide drought assistance in the context of a changing climate”.

A new approach, piloted in Western Australia from...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.