Federal government-selected experts want people to start using the word “dryness” to describe Australia’s worst drought in a century.
The word “drought” makes farmers feel bad, says the government’s hand-picked Drought Policy Review Expert Social Panel.
The politically-correct push also aims to make farmers accept that drier weather is here to stay, and is not a temporary crisis, the panel’s newly released report says.
“Words like drought … have negative connotations for farm families,” the report said.
“There needs to be a new national approach to living with dryness, as we prefer to call it, rather than dealing with drought.”
But the Nationals rejected the suggestion to drop the word drought.
“No, a drought is a drought and I think we need to continue to refer to it as such, because people need to know that something does come to an end,” Nationals agriculture spokesman John Cobb said.
The report, which investigates how the drought affects people, airs criticisms of the government’s A$1 billion annual drought program.
The payments made to drought-stricken farmers, called Exceptional Circumstances (EC) funding, are the focus.
“For all the assistance provided, farm families, rural businesses and communities currently living with dryness in rural Australia do not feel or perceive they are measurably better off,” the report said.
Farming families in drought-declared areas can get an EC payment of up to A$21,000 a year.
The report said drought support had taken a crisis-based approach which was not sustainable. Dryness had to be seen as a continuing factor.
EC policy created division and resentment.
The report contained statements from farmers saying EC payments rewarded unproductive and irresponsible farmers and were of no assistance to good operators.
Mr Cobb said it was a good idea to make the EC system fairer, but rejected cutting back EC relief payments.
“Let’s be very clear that the drought support system does one heck of a lot of good,” he said.
“You can’t suddenly change it in the middle of the longest drought any of us have experienced.”
Mr Cobb said he would be “very disturbed” if EC payments were not continued for the length of the drought.
Peter Kenny, the chairman of the panel which wrote the report, said dryness was tough for farmers.
“We wonder why people have got so much pressure on them out there and they are blowing their brains out and there is a lot of them doing that,” he said.
“It is clear that drought is having an impact on the wellbeing of farming families and rural communities.”
Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said the report showed rural families were not communicating with each other about their hardships.
The government had not got the policy settings right on tackling drought, he said.
“Significant funds have gone to try and help rural communities, but you can’t have these sorts of social outcomes and say that we’ve got it right,” he said.