The drought and water resources minister, David Littleproud, has acknowledged he “totally” accepts that worsening droughts are linked to climate change, as he signalled more taxpayer support for regional communities was coming as Australia’s big dry “escalates”.
Littleproud, who stumbled last month by first telling Guardian Australia he did not know if climate change was manmade, then later clarifying he had always accepted the science on the role humans play in the climate changing, told the ABC on Sunday he understood the link between global warming and drought because “I live it”.
The minister said the government had a responsibility to deal with climate change by facing up “to try and reduce our emissions”. But he said adaptation was now the main game. “This drought in my electorate alone has been going for eight years”.
“The reality is, we can’t run away from that. We simply have to get on with it and equip our farmers and communities with the tools to be able to adapt as best they can”.
Despite the fact emissions are rising, and have risen every year since the Coalition scrapped the carbon price legislated by the Gillard government, Littleproud said the government was living up to the commitments made under international climate agreements.
He was also positive about the role of renewable energy. “We’re going to see 33,000 gigawatts of renewable energy put on in the next year or so. Most of that will happen in my own electorate.
“We actually want to become the renewable energy electorate. Western Downs shire is screaming at me to become the renewable energy shire of the country with solar and wind,” the minister said.
Asked whether he accepted that global warming meant some farms in Australia could become unviable, Littleproud said there was a market-led transition already under way. “We’ve seen farmers change their practices from being broad-acre back into grazing as the climate’s changed and as that’s taken its toll on its landscape.”
He said farmers were already shifting with an eye to long-term viability and the question before government was how to assist people remaining on the land to adapt to changing conditions.
Pressed on what the government’s drought strategy was, because the bulk of a $7bn package the Morrison government points to regularly has not yet been spent, Littleproud said the government was in the process of refining the package with input from significant stakeholders, such as the National Farmers Federation.
The minister said he wanted the NFF to provide its strategy so he could “put that in front of cabinet” along with a report from the Joint Agency Drought Taskforce, which was established within the prime minster’s office and led by major general Stephen Day.
He said the government was already acting on the recommendations from Day and would continue to work with state governments. Littleproud said what came next needed to extend outside his portfolio to a “whole of government” response, including health, education and infrastructure.
The minister said drought was complex, impacting farmers but also on whole communities. “It’s not just farmers, it’s the small business owners – building that infrastructure to build the resilience into the future.”
Labor last week asked the auditor general to investigate the government’s claimed $7bn in drought assistance, saying the drought response to date had been “ad hoc, confusing and lacking in direction”.
The former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has declared the Coalition risks “political annihilation” in the bush if the drought worsens and it does not start building dams – but there has also been controversy about the quality of Joyce’s own input as special drought envoy.
Littleproud was also asked about recent comments from the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, who declared protesters who disrupt traffic should have their welfare payments cut and be subjected to mandatory jail sentences, part of a rhetoric offensive by conservative MPs against climate change protests.
Littleproud responded in low-key fashion but broadly backed Dutton’s arguments on Sunday morning. “Everyone wants a cause these days. They become angry and impose their will on the Australian people. What this should be is about respect.
“I get everyone wants a cause. Everyone’s got to be angry these days. But for Christ’s sakes, respect your fellow Australians,” the minister said.
He said the Morrison government had taken action against animal activists “that impinged on the rights of farming families, and we passed legislation.
“But a lot of this comes back to the states. We wouldn’t have to do the heavy lifting if the states got in there and imposed higher penalties for these activists so that the magistrates had nowhere to go but to slip into them.”