Prime Minister Tony Abbott has played down the role of climate change in the drought ravaging much of inland eastern Australia.
And he has indicated that the coming relief package for farmers will not take into account future increases in extreme weather events predicted in a new report by scientists.
At the end of a two-day tour taking in Bourke and Broken Hill in NSW and Longreach in Queensland, Mr Abbott said the present period of extreme heat and dry conditions – broken in part during his weekend visit – was not unusual for Australia.
‘‘If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times,’’ Mr Abbott said.
‘‘This is not a new thing in Australia.
‘‘As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia,’’ he said.
Mr Abbott, who has previously dismissed a link between climate change and October’s early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, ruled out taking the issue of a warming planet into consideration when preparing his drought-aid package for cabinet later this week.
‘‘Farmers ought to be able to deal with things expected every few years,’’ Mr Abbott said.
‘‘Once you start getting into very severe events – one-in-20, 50, 100-year events – that’s when I think people need additional assistance because that is ... beyond what a sensible business can be expected to plan for.’’
A new report by the Climate Council – formed with public funding from the ashes of the Climate Commission, which the Abbott government abolished – says heatwaves are becoming more frequent, more intense and lasting longer.
It says Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide were already experiencing the number of annual hot days that had been forecast for 2030 in the first decade of the century.
The report, by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes and UNSW researcher Sarah Perkins, said: ‘‘Record hot days and warm nights are also expected to increase across Australia over the coming decades.
‘‘For both northern and southern Australia, one-in-20-year extreme hot days are expected to occur every two to five years by the middle of the century.’’
Those three cities, as it happens, have each broken heat records this summer.
Adelaide has had 13 days of 40 degrees or more, beating the previous record set more than a century ago, of 11 such days. Melbourne has hda seven days above 40 degrees, the most in any calendar year just six weeks in, while Canberra has had 20 days above 35 degrees, the most for any summer, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
The Climate Council report highlights the effect that increased heat is expected to have on agriculture, including reduced crop yields and lower livestock productivity.
The three regions Mr Abbott visited all had their hottest six-month period between August and January, with rainfall as little as one-fifth of normal levels.
Cabinet is expected to consider an extra $280 million in low-interest loans for farmers, among other measures.
Touring the Mount Gipps cattle and sheep station north of Broken Hill on Monday, he said there was ‘‘a world of difference’’ between companies seeking handouts and farmers needing help to get through the drought.
Graziers have been offloading their livestock throughout much of inland eastern Australia as they battle to cope with drought and declining feedstock.
John Cramp, the owner of Mount Gipps, said the recent extreme heat in his region had seen his cattle remain near their water troughs rather than go in search of remaining grass.
‘‘They won’t leave their water, they won’t poke out and get some feed,’’ Mr Cramp said, adding that in his view ‘‘climates have always changed’’.