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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray
21 July 2003
What farmers have understood about climate forecasts during drought is on the agenda for a two-day workshop starting in Melbourne tomorrow. The Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment and Heritage, Dr Sharman Stone, will open the DroughtCom workshop at the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology's Head Office on Tuesday 22 July.
The workshop, funded by the Bureau and Land and Water Australia, will bring together about 90 climate scientists, farmers, land and water resource managers, journalists and policy-makers to discuss the communication of climate and weather information during the 2002-03 drought in Australia.
Commenting on the reasons for the workshop, Dr Stone said the Bureau had provided good early warning of the onset of the 2002 El Niño that became one of the main factors in the onset of, or, in some cases, worsening of seriously dry conditions.
"But climate forecasting is still a new part of the science of meteorology, and there are many uncertainties. The scientists still have much to learn about how best to communicate information in the most useful way to enable farmers and others to make the best informed decisions," Dr Stone said.
"At the same time, farmers and others dependent on the weather need to understand the limitations of the science and that they cannot get exact forecasts on which to base their decisions," Dr Stone said. "This can sometimes be very frustrating for farmers who need to make decisions such as whether to hold on to stock or sow crops. So it is essential that the farmers and others talk to the scientists to see what can be done to improve the usefulness and understanding of the information the Bureau provides," she said.
Dr Stone said that being both a farmer herself and having ministerial responsibility for the Bureau made her acutely aware of the challenges in communicating between scientists and farmers. "A major climatic event such as this provides an ideal opportunity to take stock of how climate forecasts for the community are working, what we're doing well, and where we can improve."
Although good rains have been experienced in some areas in recent months, the severe and widespread impact of the drought has meant that many people around the country are still feeling its devastating consequences. "More follow-up rain is required in many areas before we can put this drought behind us," Dr Stone said.
"It is at times like these that the value of the Bureau's extensive observation system is highlighted, and this is one reason why the Australian Government is committed to upgrading the Bureau's critical infrastructure," Dr Stone said.
The Commonwealth Government has committed $31.2 million over the next four years in the 2003-04 Budget to support the Bureau's monitoring activities and essential services. In particular, these funds will assist in delivering:
Neil Plummer, Bureau of Meteorology, tel: (03) 9669 4714, mob: 0419 117865
Bill Wright, Bureau of Meteorology, tel: (03) 9669 4781
Tricia Walsh, Office of Dr Stone, tel: (02) 6277 2016