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Reality is the enemy of irrigated agriculture, Matt Cananvan, not ‘greenies’

TJ Ryan Foundation Board member, John Quiggin, comments in The Guardian (12.9.18) on recent Coalition statements about irrigating northern Australia for agricultural purposes, pointing out that the idea that irrigation is the ‘simple’ solution to the problems of agriculture in Australia has been thoroughly debunked.

‘In a recent opinion piece, the minister for resources and northern Australia, Senator Matt Canavan, blamed opposition to massive irrigation schemes on greenies who “often have not set foot north of Gympie” and perpetrate “a myth that we can’t grow food in our north”.

‘As a graduate of the University of Queensland School of Economics and former director at the Productivity Commission, Senator Canavan might perhaps have directed his vitriol closer to home. For nearly 60 years, economists, notably including those at both UQ and the Productivity Commission, have been the most consistent and determined critics of the idea that expanded irrigation is the solution to the problems of agriculture in Australia, and particularly in northern Australia.

‘Agricultural economists recognised long ago that the environment in northern Australia was not good for irrigated agriculture. The converse recognition, that irrigation schemes are often disastrous for the environment, came much later.

‘… It may give Senator Canavan a warm glow to suggest that avocado-eating urbanites are the only obstacle to a massive expansion in irrigated agriculture. His real enemy, however, is economic reality.’

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