Issue No. 5: Agriculture and the Environment
THE balance between profitable agricultural production and strong environmental outcomes is one of the most important considerations of rural property management and has today been identified by AgForce Queensland’s ‘Agriculture – 30 Issues, 30 Days’ campaign.
Queensland primary producers have a proven history of environmental stewardship and the ability to achieve strong agricultural output whilst also protecting native flora and fauna. Additionally, many millions of hectares are held by Government under protected area estate management including National Parks. Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show around one-third of all agricultural businesses set aside land for conservation, equating to approximately 8.4 million hectares. Furthermore, more than 28 million hectares is designated National Park land.
However, AgForce Queensland policy officer, Tamara Badenoch, said there were better ways to manage the vast protected area estate to integrate agriculture and to recognise the role it can play in conserving biodiversity.
“For example under the right circumstances cattle can be an effective management tool to control some grasses and to remove fires hazards,” Ms Badenoch said.
“Farming and protecting the environment can occur simultaneously and this has been encouraged and proven through schemes like the Nature Refuges program.
“Simply locking land away does not protect it but rather opens the door to feral animal, pest and weed infestation and serious fire risks.”
Specifically, AgForce Queensland is calling for:
- A balanced, incentive-based approach to biodiversity conservation that recognises landholders’ strong history of environmental stewardship;
- Established stewardship programs for holistic management of protected areas – for example, pest animal and weed control or fire management that include adequate funding and compensation for these activities;
- Guaranteed funding for protected area management – for example, continuation of the $2b commitment to Caring for Our Country.
- Property Manager for the Spicers Group, David Stent, said Nature Refuges had been created on much of the company’s 8000ha of agricultural land while cell grazing was also used to enhance environmental protection.
“There needs to be stewardship funding for the long term as a way of incentivising farmers who have large tracks of country to continue to care for the land,” Mr Stent.
“The best farmers in Queensland are undertaking conservation management practices and that story needs to be told and rewarded.”
Issue No. 6: Native Title Respondent Funding
AGFORCE Queensland has today called for the urgent reinstatement of native title respondent funding by the Federal Government as it continues to highlight key issues affecting the state’s ability to efficiently produce food and fibre through the ‘Agriculture – 30 Issues, 30 Days’ campaign.
In December 2012, then Federal Attorney-General , Nicola Roxon, withdrew this crucial funding which pays for legal representation of native title respondents, despite funding for claimants being ongoing.
Since 1996 the Commonwealth Government has provided this small amount of funding to pastoral organisations, such as AgForce, to assist graziers with properties under Native Title claim and to coordinate the complex legal process involved.
The funding has helped streamline this process by ensuring only one legal representative is required to represent pastoralists in a single claim. Native title claims often span multiple properties so this has lead to a substantially more efficient process. This efficiency has also meant the finalisation of Indigenous Land Use and Access Agreements (ILUAs) has been significantly expedited. An ILUA is a negotiated agreement which allows native title holders to access grazing lands in a safe way.
AgForce Queensland General Manager of Policy, Lauren Hewitt, said the removal of the funding had not only stalled the negotiation process but could also create a legal quagmire.
“Without ongoing funding this system will deteriorate because individual respondents will have to bear the cost of representation personally or self represent,” Ms Hewitt said.
“The reality is in many cases respondents will either drop out of the system or each individual pastoralist under a claim will have their own legal representation.
“In some cases this could mean hundreds of lawyers would be involved in a single claim.
“This can only lead to gross inefficiencies and a prolongation of claims being finalised which is not good for pastoralists and certainly not good for claimants wanting to access land for cultural purposes.
“Federal Court judges have also expressed serious concern at this situation and say the lack of funding will result in perverse outcomes throughout the native title process.”
Through negotiation with the State Government, AgForce Queensland has been able to extend its native title claim coordination by sourcing emergency funding but at a greatly reduced capacity.
Ms Hewitt said it was now time for Federal Government to recognise the hole that had been left by the withdrawal of funds.
“This requires only a very small amount of funding for very large benefits,” she said.
“We are calling on the Federal Attorney-General to reinstate this funding so that we may have an expedited native title claim process and achieve the best outcomes for both pastoralists and indigenous Australians.”
Issue No. 7: Exploding kangaroo population
EXPLODING kangaroo populations across the state are applying unsustainable grazing pressure on key agricultural land and placing the welfare of both grazing animals and macropods at risk said AgForce Queensland as it moves to day seven of the ’30 Issues, 30 Days’ campaign.
The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) estimates macropod numbers in Queensland have increased by 45pc per annum over the past three years due to strong seasonal conditions to equate to the population doubling every 1.8 years. Furthermore, only 31.4pc of the Queensland kangaroo commercial harvest quota was filled in the twelve months to February 2013 due to the withdrawal of Russia as a key market for Australian kangaroo meat.
AgForce Queensland livestock policy officer, Michael Allpass, said the competition for food between macropods, sheep and cattle would result in devastating animal welfare outcomes with many millions of kangaroos at risk of starving to death.
“A survey completed by AgForce has shown that 87pc of all members are experiencing a detrimental impact on their businesses as a result of kangaroos,” Mr Allpass said.
“Queensland grazing land simply cannot cope with the explosion in macropod numbers seen over recent years.
“As much of the state now moves from strong seasons to drought this grazing pressure is intensifying by the day.
“This issue must be addressed by relevant government departments and this must be done quickly to avoid further serious impacts on production and animal welfare.”
Specifically AgForce is calling for:
· Engagement with Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and QDAFF to provide for sustainable management of macropod harvesting, both commercially and non-commercially, to improve welfare conditions for macropods and grazing livestock alike, therefore creating a sound balance with agricultural production;
· A government administered scheme for macropod control with a clear focus on profitability and sustainability;
· This scheme must be flexible so as to allow removal of kangaroos at appropriate times throughout the year;
· The Federal Agriculture Minister to work with international markets to explore and develop long-term export markets for kangaroo meat.
“The kangaroo population is an issue which really has been put on the backblocks but given the threat it now poses we cannot afford further delay,” Mr Allpass said.