If you hate farmers, be sure to give generously to the Farmhand appeal. If you want the drought problem to get worse, applaud the politicians as they hand out more taxpayers' money to drought-stricken cockies.
And if you want to see our farmers continuing to stuff up the Wide Brown Land - and then demanding that you and I pay to clean up the mess - nod wisely when ignorant loudmouths spout about "drought- proofing" Australia.
If you thought the notion of farmers and their political toadies wanting to "capitalise the profits, but socialise the losses" was a thing of the past, wake up. It's happening now.
It got little publicity in the cities but, just last financial year, Australian farmers had their most profitable year in yonks. From a recent average of $5.1 billion a year, farm income almost doubled to $9.8 billion.
The latest estimate is that, this year, income will slump to $3.7 billion. So what happens? Out comes the begging bowl.
Farming must be the only for-profit industry in the country that passes round the hat whenever profits slip. If any city businesses tried that, we'd laugh them to scorn. But when Dad and Dave do it, we dig deep. And if we don't, our vote-chasing politicians do it for us.
It's amazing how the politicians (and talkback squawkers) who carry on about the evils of welfare dependency rush for the taxpayers' coffers at the first sign of a cloudless sky.
Mention the word drought and the cities fill with people who like to imagine they're soft-hearted, but are actually soft-headed.
We've got to stop acting as though drought is some utterly unexpected act of bastardry on the part of the Deity - that it's as unpredictably devastating as the Newcastle earthquake.
Talk about slow learners. Europeans have been here for more than 200 years but we still haven't twigged that droughts are frequent and reasonably predictable events. In a country such as ours, droughts are simply a matter of efficient farm management. Make a note: droughts aren't bad luck, they're bad management.
There's nothing farmers can do to control the weather, but there's much they can do to stop the absence of rain from becoming "drought" - which is the absence of feed, water and soil moisture. It's in this sense that farmers influence how much drought we have.
Farmers who grow crops can minimise the effects of unreliable rain by doing a lot more to preserve the fertility level and moisture level of their soil. They can crop less frequently, change their mix of crops and much else.
For livestock farmers, how much you suffer from drought is a product of how heavily you stock your land. If, by overgrazing or by installing insufficient watering points, you allow all your grass to be eaten, your top soil blows away. You suffer more from the drought and you make yourself more susceptible to the next dry spell.
Good farm managers don't gamble on rain. They don't push their luck, but cut their losses early.
Many of our farmers are good managers. There are farmers out there now who are doing OK while their neighbours are suffering the full agony. We're rarely told about the good ones, however, because they don't fit the media's stereotype.
Why do so many farmers not bother with good management? Because they know that when the bad times come they'll be able to push a lot of the cost off on to the community. The city-slickers will bail them out.
In the economists' jargon, drought assistance - whether from governments or charity - creates "moral hazard": it encourages farmers to give no thought to the morrow.
In plainer English, those who donate to drought appeals are showing as much kindness as people who'd give a drug addict another hit.
The point to remember is this: the less our farmers do to prepare for drought, the more it damages both their soil and their finances, and the more susceptible that makes them to the next one. By better farm management we could turn droughts into dry spells.
The wider point is that we've got to adapt our farming practices to suit the dry Australian landscape. We've got to make Australian farming more peculiarly Australian and stop trying to adapt the landscape to suit alien European farming practices.
We've got to cut our coat according to our cloth. It's doubtful, for instance, whether we should ever have got into cotton and rice growing.
They say some parts of the backblocks have been drought-declared almost continuously for 30 years. Why? So they could be continuously eligible for subsidies. But the obvious truth is that such areas are simply unsuitable for farming - and the sooner we face up to it the better.
The perverse truth is that the more we attempt to "drought-proof" Australia the more we create drought. It's a clarion call for more of the same.
Turning the rivers inland means more of the irrigation that's already done so much to stuff up our soil and rivers. You'd end up with more salinity, more loss of arable land and more drought. To which the answer would be, of course, more of a hand from Farmhand.
If we really care about drought, we'll stop feeling sorry for farmers who mismanage their businesses and then want to blame it on the Almighty.
Ross Gittins is a staff columnist.
This story was found at:http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/10/15/1034561158540.html