It is a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to address the annual convention of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia.
Across Australia, there are vanishingly few business associations or peak bodies that truly speak for and represent the views of their members and the broader community.
The PGA has a reputation here in WA, and I can assure you across the Nullarbor too, for being frank with their analysis, and fearless in their communication to the public and to policy makers on the interests of pastoralists and graziers and regional Western Australians.
As the PGA mission statement reads:
To ensure the prosperity and long term viability of members, the agricultural and associated industries, by providing an effective voice state wide and nationally through a fiscally sound, efficient, free enterprise organisation, with strong leadership.
At the Institute of Public Affairs, we have had many opportunities to work with the PGA on our research, especially on the critical issues of red tape, land use rights, and climate policy. And I look forward to that research relationship continuing for many years to come.
Could I also acknowledge your president Tony Seabrook – congratulations on everything you have achieved with the PGA, and thank you for your tireless work and advocacy.
As I was sitting at the table I was flicking through this wonderful little booklet on the benefits of red meat. And I couldn’t help thinking, here is something you won’t hear in inner-city Perth too often: “Red meat is a health food”.
I’m going to take a suitcase of these back with me to inner-city Melbourne and hand them out.
Here is something else you won’t hear very often: Australia is a great nation.
A great nation built by agriculture and primary industry – industries which encapsulate and embody the Australian way of life, unlike any other.
Farmers, frontiersmen, cattlemen, shearers, are an inextricable part of the Australian identity – of what it means to be Australian.
The independence from government, hard work, risk taking, entrepreneurial vision, and commitment to family, community and nation – these are the values which define our way of life. And it is these values which receive their best expression in our regions.
Farming, in all of its dimensions, is a noble way of living.
It sounds jingoistic, but the Australia we live in today was built by two things: Sheep and Wheat.
From the introduction of Merino wool to Australia in 1797, to 1807 when the first bale of wool was exported to Britain from Australia by Captain Macarthur, to 1870 when Australia became the world’s largest wool exporter, to today where agriculture and primary industry plays an indispensable role in feeding and clothing the nation and the world.
It is on the sheep’s back that Australia’s wealth and prosperity and way of life was created and is sustained and will continue.
Those of you working in primary industry are following in the footsteps of great visionary pioneers who build this nation – pioneers such as Sidney Kidman, Australia’s own cattle king.
Sidney Kidman’s story is Australia’s story and it is worth briefly recounting.
Kidman left home at 13 to work on the land as a stockman. He then started out in his own venture as many self-made Australians do with his own small business, a butcher shop in the outback town of Cobar in NSW where meat was in high demand from the local copper miners.
From these humble beginnings, Kidman expanded into transportation, buying drays to cart copper from mines to ports and later moved into the business of buying and selling cattle and horses.
Kidman expanded his land holdings such that by the early 1900s he become the largest landowner in the British Empire.
But Kidman gave ten-fold back to Australia what Australia had given to him.
In World War I, Kidman sent fighter planes, ambulances, shipments of food and horses to support the Allied war effort. He was ultimately knighted in 1921 for his generosity.
Hard work, reward, and sacrifice for the community – that’s what Australia is all about.
Perhaps no other part of our society creates more value for our fellow countrymen and woman, or for the world, than agriculture.
Each year, Australian farmers and agriculturalists produce enough food to feed Australia three times over – the extra food we produce after we have fed ourselves goes around the world – lifting millions out of poverty and starvation, and creating wealth through export revenue which is re-invested into the community.
Yet for everything that agriculture does for Australia, perhaps no other sector is more put upon by government and bureaucrats.
As you know only too well – there are rules for everything. There are rules for cutting down trees, rules for planting new trees, rules for machinery, rules for transport, rules for interstate commerce, rules for heavy hauling, rules for managing wild, feral animals.
I’ll share with you a couple of examples, which no doubt you are aware. To build an irrigation pivot on privately held pastoral land requires not less than eight different permits and licences including a Water License, a License to construct a bore, a Clearing Permit, a Diversification Permit, a Development approval, a Building License, Crown Land Access Licenses, and General Purpose Leases and Development Leases over Crown Land.
And that is just to build one single irrigation pivot.
But it gets worse.
51A of the Environment Protection Act requires farmers and private landowners to obtain permits from government to clear dead and remnant vegetation, such as dead trees – even when those actions are being undertaken to mitigate bushfire risk.
And even when farmers go cap in hand to government to seek permission to develop their own privately held property, permission is often granted with conditions.
Permits should be granted on the basis that the land on which native vegetation clearing is taking place is private land, not public property, and governments should not have the ability to interfere in the manner in which clearing takes place.
This is based on the common sense reality that farmers, not politicians, know best how to manage their own land.
The red tape and regulation of agriculture is as bad as it has ever been, and, under the policy of net zero emissions by 2050, it is going to get much, much worse.
Today the IPA has released significant new research findings on just how bad the red tape problem is.
At the national level, our study finds that since the year 2000 – which is when the EPBC Act was introduced:
- Total government spending on environmental bureaucracies at the federal level has increased by 470%, while the size of the agricultural industry nationwide has increased by only 175%.
- This means federal environmental bureaucracies have grown at nearly three times the rate as the agricultural sector.
- Staffing in the federal environmental bureaucracies has increased by 256%, while employment in agriculture throughout the country has declined by 27%.
- This means that for every job created in the environmental bureaucracy, 14 jobs have been destroyed in Australia’s agricultural sector.
At the state level in Western Australia, it is much worse.
Since the year 2000, our research shows:
- Western Australia’s environmental bureaucracy spending has increased by 635%, while the size of the state’s agricultural sector has only increased by 115%.
- This means the growth of the Western Australian environmental bureaucracy is 5.5 times the growth of the agricultural industry over this period.
- Staffing in Western Australia’s environmental bureaucracy has increased by 326%, while employment in agriculture throughout the state has declined by 35%.
- This means for every job created in Western Australia’s environmental bureaucracy, 21 jobs have been destroyed in the Western Australian agricultural sector.
Australia’s environmental bureaucracy has grown so much that the number of Australians employed in environmental departments and agencies at the state and federal level is now more than the number of Australians in the army.
Australia’s green tape army, in other words, is bigger than our actual army.
Our research shows are now a staggering 34,604 people employed by environmental departments nationwide.
By contrast, the size of Australia’s regular army is 29,399.
This means that the size of the nation’s taxpayer-funded green-tape army is almost 20% bigger than the size of the regular army.
And it is getting even bigger.
The size of the green tape army has more than doubled since 2000.
The actual army has increased by only one-fifth.
Every year, almost 1,000 bureaucrats are added to the green tape army. That’s the equivalent to the size of a battalion added to the green tape army each and every year.
And as you all know – they are not sitting around twiddling their thumbs looking for something to do.
They are intervening in practically every major component of agriculture sector.
Legislation at the federal level to enact the policy of net zero emissions by 2050 is currently before the senate, having passed the house, and will almost certainly pass in this sitting fortnight.
This will be a game changer – and not in a good way – for Australia’s and Western Australia’s agricultural sector.
Firstly, our research shows the legislation of net zero will provide an almost limitless remit for government intervention and environmental legal activism – which will add more red tape and delays to critical agricultural projects through protracted and vexatious litigation and never-ending court action.
Our analysis has shown that practically any major carbon emitting project, such as the construction of a dam, rail-lines, road infrastructure, could now be the subject of legal challenge.
As a direct result of the legislation of net zero, emissions mandates made under the Paris Climate Agreement would become “relevant considerations” that a minister would need to take into account when making an approval decision. Section 5 of the Administrative Decisions and Judicial Review Act (1977) allows a person to challenge a Ministerial decision as an improper exercise of power if the minister fails “to take a relevant consideration into account in the exercise of a power.”
This combined with Section 487 of the EPBC Act which gives legal standing to green groups – means environmental activists could challenge any carbon emitting project on the basis that the minister failed to consider how that project contributed to or detracted from the legislated net zero goals.
In other words, our research identifies the legislation of net zero will unleash a torrent of green legal activism.
It is already starting.
Two environmental groups were straight out of the gates in writing to the environment minister, demanding she reconsider approvals which had already been given by prior governments to 19 critical natural resources projects.
Our research estimated these projects are worth around $101 billion and175,000 jobs.
Yes, it is true that the majority of these projects are in the coal or gas sectors.
And the focus of net zero so far has been on the energy sector more broadly.
But make no mistake, you are next.
First they came for the miners, then they came for the farmers.
Why is that?
Primary industry is energy intensive.
Whether it is the diesel in your tractor, the electricity you rely on in a packing plant or a shearing shed, or the energy involved in manufacturing and distribution of fertilizer, transporting goods to market, exporting produce overseas, selling products in shops and supermarkets, every single stage of the production line will be touched, in one way or another, by net zero emissions mandates.
Just look at what is being proposed here and what is happening overseas.
To give one example, the ACT government will ban the sale of new petrol vehicles from the middle of next decade in the name of net zero.
Don’t think the ACT is so far away ideologically or geographically for it to not have relevance.
Lobby groups and activists are already demanding that the ACT be a model for Australia.
An electric car might be ok in the inner-city if you are travelling a few kilometers. But not for your ute, not for your truck, not for your machinery. What the inner-city elites don’t get is that these are not playthings. They are tools of the trade which are vital to primary industry and by extension for food and fiber production.
We can look overseas for what net zero means.
Banning of chemical fertilizers in Sri Lanka.
Locking up prime farmland in the UK. French revolt over higher gas taxes.
Laws to cut nitrogen emissions in the Netherlands.
And the 30 per cent cut to national fertilizer emissions of nitrous oxide in Canada.
This is what net zero means in practice and in action.
These policies are being pursued without any consideration to their cost or to what it will mean for our famers and for our nation.
And that’s because bureaucrats sitting in big office buildings in the city don’t get is how wealth is created.
Every time you drive past a truck full of sheep – there’s revenue for a new hospital.
Every time you drive past a paddock of grain – there’s revenue for a new school.
Every time you drive past a cattle station – there’s revenue for a new road.
Whether it is digging resources from under the ground, or growing them above ground, every time you make and produce something, and sell it here or overseas, you are creating wealth for all Australians.
We have a trillion dollars of debt at the federal level alone. Interest rates are rising, and fast. This means interest payments on debt will escalate. Annual debt repayments are already the fastest growing component of federal government spending. Our research and analysis found that annual interest payments on debt will leap from $20 billion today to $90 billion by the end of the decade.
- This is double the current annual defence budget,
- Double the current annual education budget,
- Approximately three times the current annual NDIS budget, and
- The equivalent to the cost of purchasing a fleet of six nuclear submarines.
How will we pay this back?
I can tell you one thing – it sure won’t be through documents produced by self-important Perth-based bureaucrats holding clipboards.
As I come to the end of my remarks, I’d like to make a couple of broader reflections for our future.
The first is that the issues we are discussing today are a part of something much bigger.
Australia is a deeply divided society – perhaps more so than at any other time since World War Two.
We are divided between the inner-city elites, and real Australians in the suburbs and regions.
Divided between those who have an earthy pragmatism that comes with life on the land – and those in the ivory tower whose world view is based on vague, theoretical abstractions.
Divided between those who know how the world does work, and those who tell us how the world should work.
Divided between those who have gained wisdom passed down to them through the generations, and those who think wisdom can be conveyed in 280 characters.
Divided between those who have a healthy suspicion of government directed social and economic experimentation, and those who believe lives can – and should – be centrally planned and directed.
And we are divided, as prominent British author David Goodhart put it, between the anywhere and the somewhere.
Goodhart’s Anywheres are a “large minority group of the highly educated and mobile who tend to value autonomy and openness and comfortably surf social change.”
They are the ones who have come to dominate our society and politics.
Conversely the Somewheres are a “larger but less influential group” who “value security and familiarity and are more connected to group identities than Anywheres.”
Somewheres are rooted in time and place, and are committed to family and community. They are patriotic, proud to be Australian, and are proud of our culture, traditions, institutions, and history.
The Anywheres, by contrast, are rootless cosmopolitans, who have more in common with their globe-trotting counterparts in London, Tokyo, Brussels, and New York than working-class citizens of their own nation.
Not only do they have no sense of allegiance to Australia, or to its values or customs. They are ashamed of them.
It is the Anywheres – the wealthy, tertiary educated inner-city elites – who are the loudest advocates of more regulation, bigger government, and shortsighted climate policies which endanger our energy and food security.
And that is why I would like to leave you with this:
It is now mission critical, that those of us who are proudly somewhere, real Australians, form strategic research alliances – across industries, across communities, and across the nation – to communicate the impact of public policy on primary industry.
And, to communicate to the community and to policy makers our vision for the future – by eliminating red tape, shelving net zero, and keeping government limited, Australia will achieve food security. We will achieve energy security. We will rebuild our sovereign manufacturing capabilities. And we will have thriving regions and vibrant communities.
We will secure our democracy and our way of life through the creation of wealth, prosperity, and opportunity – which are the consequence of a strong resource sector.
But – and let me end on this – as the experience of the Netherlands shows – by the time the tractors are in the streets, it’s too late.
Don’t wait for it to be too late.
This speech about IPA research was delivered by Daniel Wild on 7 September 2022 to the annual convention of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia. Edits have been made for clarity.