Australian farmers are under unprecedented attack by environmental groups and left-leaning political parties. It’s time government ministers put the gloves on and jumped into the ring. On this page last week, Lyndon Schneiders, national director of the Wilderness Society, argued that land-clearing by farmers is a “key threat” to the environment and more must be done to counteract it. In doing so, Schneiders called the issue “complex”. However, there is nothing complex about it.
We are talking about private farmers who decide to develop their own privately held land. It isn’t the government’s land. And it surely isn’t the Wilderness Society’s land. Government bureaucrats and green groups have no business telling farmers what they can and cannot do on their private land.
If the Wilderness Society is so concerned about land-clearing, then they should pay farmers to forgo productive land development in order to conserve vegetation. Or, better yet, they should purchase their own land and use that for conservation purposes.
What is perhaps more disappointing, though, is the use of misleading figures. Schneiders estimates that 1.2 million hectares of land were cleared in Queensland over three years following the Newman government’s sensible relaxation of land-clearing laws. Yet what the Wilderness Society doesn’t say is that this represents just a 0.7 per cent increase in agricultural use because of land development, or just 0.23 per cent a year. In any case, about two-thirds of vegetation management carried out by farmers is to control regrowth areas that had previously been cleared.
This is why over the approximate period that the Newman laws were in place, the gross value of agriculture commodities produced in Queensland increased almost 30 per cent — about double the national increase — and it became Australia’s most valuable agricultural state. But you won’t read that in the Wilderness Society’s piece, either.
Nor will you read the fact that employment in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector in Queensland has grown 23 per cent since 2014. Or that the agriculture sector is home to about 85,000 businesses, many of them small and family-owned, and all of which are under threat from more government regulation.
However, what is even more concerning is that the Wilderness Society has launched what is just another prong in a co-ordinated attack on farmers.
Just last month the Labor Party included a “land-clearing trigger” in its national party platform. Make no mistake, a land-clearing trigger would be the greatest attack on farmers since settlement. It could potentially see every proposed instance of agricultural development subject to approval from the federal environment minister. It would be nothing short of de facto nationalisation of privately held farmland, meaning Canberra-based bureaucrats would have veto power of farm development. These moves have nothing to do with the environment. Rather, it is all about control.
What is needed is less, not more, power in Canberra. Encouragingly, the government is reviewing how to cut the amount of red tape imposed on farmers by the federal environmental laws. The best thing the federal government could do is completely remove itself from the regulation of environmental matters. Farmers already have to deal with enough meddling bureaucrats at the local and state level, let alone having to contend with out-of-touch, overpaid and underworked Canberra-based officials.
In fairness to Schneiders, he does get one thing right when he says “the vast majority of farmers care about the environment and know the future is all about sustainability”. Yet this completely undermines the entire case for government intervention. Farmers know that the vitality of their land depends on their ability to properly manage it. Only they, and not distant bureaucrats, know how to best do this.
It’s time governments got out of the way and let farmers do what only they can do: produce high-value food, fibre and grain while being responsible custodians of their land for the next generation of Australian farmers.