Salinity Is A Community Problem

October 29, 1999 The Rural News

Dryland salinity is a whole-of-community issue that needs to be tackled on a co-operative, no-fault, no regrets basis, according to NSW Farmers' Association. NSW Farmers' president, John Cobb, was commenting on the eve of the release of a significant report on dryland salinity by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. "Australia is a naturally saline continent, a fact noted by early explorers, who found water in rivers like the Darling too saline to drink, even before European occupation of most of inland Australia," Mr Cobb said.

"It is apparent as a result of this and a whole range of factors, dryland salinity is increasing and imposing significant costs on individual farmers, rural communities and local, State and Commonwealth governments. "A concerted approach by all sectors of the community is needed to tackle the problem, but at the same time it is increasingly clear that there is no single cause, and no single solution. "There are, however, a number of principles that governments must adopt as part of their strategies to manage or reduce the impact of dryland salinity. "The first principle is that the problem must be tackled on a no-fault, no-regrets basis. "The time-lag between cause and effect can be as long as 60 or 70 years, and the effect can he hundreds of miles from the cause, so there is no point in attempting to put blame. and by inference cost, on particular sectors or groups of the community.

"The second principle is any required changes in land use must he initiated via incentives, not regulations. Adopting a regulatory approach that imposes restrictions on land use and removes the rights of landholders will not be successful in managing or solving the problem, and will impose costs unfairly.

"The complexity of the contributing factors, which vary from area, to area also means that any regulatory approach will simply he too cumbersome and inflexible and could result in more economic harm to the community than the salinity itself.

"The third principle must he that the primary focus of salinity programs should be on treating the problem, not the symptoms. "There is little point providing local councils with extra funds to fix roads, if that simply means the same roads will again be a problem in a few years time.

"The fourth principle must be that communities are involved in, and given appropriate resources and support to manage the problem within their own areas. There is no magic single solution, and the more Canberra or Sydney try to control the agenda, the less likely it is that suitable solutions will be found.

"Good local information and well resourced advisory services will do more to assist with the problem than will hundreds of bureaucrats dreaming up policies from the comfort of Sydney or Canberra," Mr Cobb said. Mr Cobb said it was perhaps noteworthy that the need for these advisory services was increasing at a time governments were reducing their budgets.

Mr Cobb said the fifth principle should be that everyone involved must recognise that a return to pre 1788 conditions via retiring vast areas of farmland and planting of billions of trees was not an option. "Hopefully, the problems that ill-considered environmental policies have caused over the past few years have been a lesson for everyone.

"This approach is simply not practical, nor is it economically feasible. and research is already showing that there are better solutions that combine rural production and a reduction in salinity.

"Individual farmers, groups of farmers and local communities are already actively tackling the problem, and coming up with new and innovative ways to manage and possibly overcome it.

"The role of governments should be to encourage and adequately resource these efforts, while at the same time developing and implementing innovative, market-based instruments that assist in solving the problem," Mr Cobb said.