Positive Policy: Abbott’s Australian Food Security Plan

Having been out of action for a few days until yesterday, there are a number of issues “in the queue” that I have wanted to discuss. One of these — refreshingly — is something I think is an excellent, positive idea that has emerged from the Coalition’s policy development processes.

An article appeared in the Weekend Australian on Saturday, outlining plans being developed by the Coalition — ahead of its likely election win, whenever the current Parliament is dissolved — to turn vast tracts of currently idle land into agricultural and grazing regions to create a vast new foodbowl.

Here’s the article; have a read.

Let’s get the obvious — and in my view, only — negative out of the way first: the Communists, ratbags and other assorted lunatics and fruit cakes over at the Greens.

I’m not going to apologise for my vehemence against the so-called Greens; they would rather see towns and cities run out of water than build new dams. For example, a single new dam on the Mitchell River in Victoria (which floods every year like clockwork) would guarantee the security of water supplies to Greater Melbourne against its population growth, and against drought, for decades.

There are plenty of other examples I might have chosen to illustrate the destructive and socially and environmentally irresponsible consequences of Greens policies, but that one is relevant because we’re talking about new dams.

One of the lasting “contributions” the Greens have made to Australian politics is to turn dams into dirty words; election-losing ideas that cost votes purely because of the hype and mania the Greens have whipped up around them.

Reality is a more worthy currency than ideologically-driven rhetoric, and shadow Finance minister Andrew Robb nailed it in this case in saying “There are huge quantities of water in Australia. It is just harnessing it at the right time that is the issue.”

So let’s forget about the predictable, confected outrage from the Greens and look at this proposal on a more even basis.

To my eyes, it’s a beauty.

At the bottom line, the scheme would boost Australia’s food production capacity from being adequate to support 60 million people to being adequate for 120 million people within 20 to 30 years.

This would neatly cater for the country’s population growth. It would also provide the means with which to better service the virtually inexhaustible export market to our north, in Asia, and to maintain supply to existing markets in Europe and the Americas.

The policy involves harnessing readily potable water from rainfall that would otherwise flow down rivers and be lost into oceans to turn large tracts of semi-arable land into productive regions capable of supporting agriculture, grazing and so forth.

This would require the completion of some water management systems that are currently partly built, as well as other dams that have been planned but never constructed — in some cases for decades.

A direct side benefit would be opportunities to develop a hydro-electric power industry around some of these new dams; something the Greens could have no argument against as it offers a clean source of power generation.

The benefits are difficult to under-sell and too numerous to ignore.

The implementation of a policy like this would require massive amounts of money to be spent on infrastructure; along with the direct cost of building dams, there is the associated infrastructure requirements that go with them, and the likely need for further development such as additional road and rail infrastructure.

It would guarantee the future of the farming and agriculture sector, and with it the livelihoods of countless rural communities across the country; indeed, it is foreseeable that many regional centres would experience a new period of sustained growth after decades of overall population drift from the regions to the larger cities in coastal areas.

And the benefits would be felt in urban and rural centres alike, with likely growth in employment in transport, logistics and trade industries in bigger cities merely an example of what might be possible.

The economic benefits to Australia, directly and indirectly, are potentially enormous; a program such as the one being mooted would involve the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the benefits from the steep increase in exports in terms of additional jobs and revenue streams to the Commonwealth — notwithstanding the benefits to the communities affected — are nigh-impossible to calculate.

And there is a national security angle in this, too: during the drought in Australia over the past ten years, many commentators have warned that “wars of the future” could start over water; indeed, it’s quite feasible they could also start over food security.

This policy initiative — with the colossal increase in food production foreshadowed as its end result — could go a long way to shoring up our position in entrenching Australia as a food supplier to 70, 80, 90 million people over and above our own national requirements.

Robb stresses that this policy is very much a work in progress, but thus far I like what I see. It’s been a long time since a single policy idea has appeared so exciting, and so downright sensible, at first glance.

I will follow developments on this (and try to get additional information from Andrew Robb — my local MP, incidentally — as it becomes available) but I can’t emphasise enough how strongly I believe the Coalition might be onto a winner here.

As I said at the outset, it’s refreshing to see one of the major parties put an idea on the table in terms of policy that is so positive, and which could potentially yield so very many benefits in terms of job creation, to local communities and individual industries, and to the country as a whole.

What do you think? I’d be keen to gather feedback from readers.