MP’s bizarre outburst sparks backlash
WHILE large swathes of Australia endure the worst drought on record - prompting bankruptcy, desperation and suicide - our agriculture minister has refused to acknowledge climate change has any part in it.
For good measure, David Littleproud added he doesn't "give a rats" whether climate change is man-made and said Australia should focus on keeping the "lights on" instead of switching to renewable energy.
The stunning outburst on ABC's bush edition of Q&A last night has sparked a wave of severe criticism and there are even calls for him resign.
The audience in Lismore in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales could even be heard gasping and booing as the Minister made a series of controversial comments.
He told host Tony Jones that his electorate of Maranoa, which spans southwestern Queensland, had been in a drought for eight years, saying: "There's no silver bullet to this apart from rain."
However, when he was asked by the host if he believed the drought was linked to human-induced climate change, Littleproud said: "Look, that's a big call."
"I don't give a rats if it's man-made or not," he added, saying that hardworking Aussies were already feeling the pinch from rising energy bills.
"We can't do it at the moment," he said. "We have to be able to turn the lights on, turn the pumps on."
He then took aim at environmentalists - blaming them for sabotaging the national water infrastructure fund.
"My predecessor Barnaby Joyce created a national water infrastructure fund," he said. "$2.5 billion to build water resources, to be able to irrigate and have reliability of water. "Unfortunately every time we go to build something, the state finds a reason not to and finds some frog that wouldn't like the temperature of the dam or a butterfly that may not like it."
At that point, Mr Littleproud was cut off by boos from the audience, but he hit back at the critics.
"I'm sorry, but you've got to make a decision … do you want an agricultural sector or do you want to live Kumbaya?" he said.
The comments have been roundly criticised on social media, with many calling for him to resign.
However, Malcolm Turnbull appeared to disagree with his Coalition colleague today, saying climate change helps cause droughts.
Mr Turnbull has owned a sheep and cattle farm in the NSW Upper Hunter with his wife Lucy since 1982 and believes this is the worst dry spell he's seen.
"I think everyone agrees that we're seeing rainfall that is, if you like, more erratic, droughts that are more frequent and seasons that are hotter," he told the ABC.
Some regions of western NSW have experienced their driest 16 months on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, and Australia as a whole experienced its driest July since 2002.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simpson pointed to a 45 per cent reduction in red meat industry emissions between 2005 and 2015 and said Australia needed to understand the effects of climate change to continue as a world leader in this area.
"The impacts of climate change will mean that (drought and rain) events could be more extreme but they could be more frequent," she said.
"We certainly need to understand that, how that's going to affect us and how we can marry that changing circumstance with all that we're doing in the rest of the country and the rest of the world with climate change."
Over the weekend, the Federal Government announced $190m in urgent drought relief funding, including an increase of the Farm Household Allowance by up to $12,000 for eligible households.
However, Ms Simpson also expressed frustration at a lack of national drought policy and said while the middle of a drought wasn't the best time for that type of policy, it was the only time the sector could get the impetus to do it.
But drought-awareness campaigner Edwina Robertson said the money wasn't enough. "Everyone is saying it's too little, too late," she said.
Mr Turnbull said the package was a supplement to the Farm Household Allowance, a fortnightly payment for eligible farmers totalling about $16,000 a year.
"It is designed to keep body and soul together, not designed to pay for fodder," the Prime Minister said.
About 19,000 people eligible for the assistance are yet to apply.
- with wires