Environment, Natural resource management, Politics

11 – Politics and dryland salinity

This week I am presenting a paper on “Politics and Dryland Salinity” at a conference in Bendigo, Victoria, called Salinity Solutions: Working with Science and Society. The conference organisers released a media release based on the paper. Here it is:

Politics swamp salt action

Australia’s political environment is inhibiting the development of good salinity policy, according to Professor David Pannell, speaking at the Salinity Solutions Conference in Bendigo.

Professor Pannell, from the CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, identified weaknesses in national and state salinity policies that result from a range of political influences.

‘The short time frame of politics makes it very difficult to bring in sound strategies that would only pay off in the longer term,’ said Professor Pannell.

‘For example, research to develop improved plant-based salinity management options will take some years to deliver, but will ultimately have a much greater impact than putting all the resources into on-ground works in the short term.’

Professor Pannell also called for more time and leadership to be provided to allow regional salinity plans to be based on sound science. ‘Currently, planning for the use of public funds from the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is proceeding rapidly, but in most regions the plans are not sufficiently informed by science or economics,’ he said.

‘The regional salinity plans do account for local opinions on priorities, which is politically sound, but sometimes the resulting actions are not cost-effective,’ Professor Pannell argued.

Professor Pannell noted that politics tends to prefer simple solutions, applied broadly, while salinity is very complex and highly variable from place to place.

‘In New South Wales and Victoria, the main concern is with salinisation of waterways, while in Western Australia it is land salinisation, affecting agriculture, infrastructure and biodiversity, and the required approaches are very different,’ said Professor Pannell.

‘Another concern is political tensions between national and state governments,’ he said. ‘One result is that the national government relies too heavily on Catchment Management Authorities for salinity management, when in many cases it would be more appropriate for state governments to take the lead and the responsibility.’

On the positive side, Professor Pannell noted that policy makers are starting to appreciate that scientific and economic understanding of salinity has advanced greatly in recent years, and as a result substantial improvements in the effectiveness of salinity policy are likely to occur in coming years.


David Pannell, The University of Western Australia

Further reading

Pannell, D.J. (2005). Farm, food and resource issues: politics and dryland salinity, Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 45: 1471-1480. Full journal paper (103K) Summary version (19K)

Ridley, A.M. and Pannell, D.J.(2004). The role of plants and plant-based R&D in managing dryland salinity in southern Australia. Working paper, School of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Western Australia. full paper (109K)

Revised version published as

Ridley, A., and Pannell, D.J. (2005). The role of plants and plant-based R&D in managing dryland salinity in Australia, Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 45: 1341-1355. Full journal paper (127K pdf)