An intractable policy problem? Dealing with the salinity crisis
Community Services, Education and Social Sciences
International, Cultural and Community Studies
For more than two decades, the steadily growing threat to regional Australia from salinity has been approached through a range of strategies including State-based education and remedial programmes; curbs on clearing in some states; community landcare activities and, more recently, strategic planning processes within government. Recognition of the need for long term planning culminated in the October 2000 announcement by the Prime Minister of the first national salinity and water quality strategy. Yet, for all this worthwhile effort it is predicted that the problem is set to worsen significantly. Recent estimates suggest that up to 15 million hectares of agricultural land are likely to be affected (Australian Conservation Foundation, 2000). Already, $700 million worth of productive land has been lost and large areas will go out of production in the next few decades unless the rising water tables can be reversed. Off-farm costs are equally significant: more than 80 country towns face on-going structural damage; river systems are experiencing growing levels of salinity and urban water systems threatened in some areas. The nation's biodiversity also faces one of its greatest threats from salinity. Remnant native vegetation in dryland farming regions is limited and heavily concentrated on private land and hundreds of species of flora and fauna are at risk from destruction of habitat and ecosystems. In sum, salinity is one of Australia's most serious environmental problems. While the extent of the problem is now well documented, less well analysed is what can be done about it within a framework of public policy and law. Only comparatively recently have governments and the mainstream media actively engaged in an examination of the wide-ranging and complex problems posed by salinity. The consequence of this neglect is an uncertainty about what actions it is feasible for governments to adopt to address the impact of salinity on the economy, the environment and the social fabric of affected rural communities.