Opinion: Unaccountable, unelected bodies dictating environmental policy at ag’s expense

Joanne Rea, Property Rights Australia, 10/09/2020


FARMERS and graziers have every right to expect that they can glean as much good policy from our system of government as any other group.

They put their case on draft legislation, present at parliamentary hearings and inquiries and from time to time even stage a noisy rally.

However, getting a result in the case of agriculture-detroying, draconian regulation has been elusive.

One would have thought that when they belong to such a necessary and economically valuable industry they should have as much influence as any other minority group, but they are thrashed again and again.

What worked once does not work now. The power and the appropriate person to lobby is often not the one voted for on election day.

It is most likely someone totally unknown to you who knows how to be chameleon like and manipulative.

The Queensland Reef Regulations, presented in an unprepared form with everyone including MPs caught off-guard, points to influence beyond the parliamentary process.

Farmers and graziers had to agitate for regional public hearings of the parliamentary committee, the Queensland substitute for an upper house.

The committee recommended on 19th September 2019, that the Bill be passed unchanged, something that was reiterated by WWF’s representative, Richard Leck , at the current Senate Inquiry into Reef Regulations.

This follows on from the same unsympathetic treatment by the Palaszczuk Labor government in passing the draconian Vegetation Management amendments which followed a similar path via the ineffective parliamentary process, and passed with no changes in 2018.

After input from literally thousands of farmers and graziers in the course of parliamentary hearings, the Chair of the committee and the Premier claimed that farmers had presented no evidence.[p 811] 

Farmers were stunned.

However, the only evidence they were looking for was how we were going to save the Great Barrier Reef. In reality there was a great deal of evidence about sedimentation and the role of grass and crops in slowing erosion but it was not what they wanted to hear.

At a recent hearing of the Senate Inquiry into Reef Regulations, Senator Susan McDonald asked Mr Leck of WWF about their influence.

“Senator McDonald: From your presentation it seems that WWF has had a significant amount of input to the government’s development of these Reef regulations, whereas the farmers have not been able to have any input. After the significant amount of hearings that were heard around the state they weren’t able to get significant changes to the regulations.”

It is obvious from the evidence that WWF (and Australian Marine Conservation Society) have continuous influence while farmers are led down the garden path with monetary incentives and kind words until the Bill is on the table. By that time it is too late to turn the behemoth that is legislation backed by powerful institutions. Environmental groups never lose touch with the institutions that influence policy for the industries they wish to control or manage.

Mr. Leck told the Inquiry that:

“WWF Australia has been actively involved in the development and implementation of key Australian and Queensland government Great Barrier Reef social policy and management programs for many years. As Imogen [Imogen Zethoven, Australian Marine Conservation Society] mentioned, these include the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, various Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority initiatives including a 2017 blueprint for resilience as well as major Great Barrier Reef focused science programs including in recent years the NERP tropical ecosystem hub and the NERP tropical water quality hub. We also actively support agricultural practice change programs in the Great Barrier Reef catchment—namely, Project Catalyst with sugarcane growers and Project Pioneer with grazing managers. WWF is a long-term member of the reef advisory committee which advises both the Queensland and Australian environment ministers about the management of the Great Barrier Reef.”

There were numerous recommendations for legislation, some apparently going back to 2004, thrown up by evidence to the Senate Inquiry. Such recommendations which were supported by WWF.

“WWF works all around the world. It has a very standard way of working to solve difficult issues, like the case of water quality and the impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. It is a mixture of outreach, enforcement, compliance, incentive and regulation. It’s pretty standard for some of these thorny issues that each of those different policy mixes and approaches has a role, and that’s certainly the case here in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

Radical environmental bodies including WWF and AMCS have been positioning themselves to regulate agriculture for more than 20 years.

This ambition seems to exist regardless of any difficulty in drawing a direct link between agriculture and the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

In parallel with the government scientific committees and taskforces where they undoubtedly must have some evidence-based points to make in order to wield such influence, they have literally dozens of web pages which present a different picture.

These pages have but one purpose and that is to convince a large number of the international community of donors that the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble and who the presumed culprits are, usually agriculture or commercial fishing.

They are often more noteworthy for their believable lies than for any claim to scientific integrity. They harm agriculture and they harm tourism and they do it with no regrets, while at the same time hypocritically lauding the economic value of the reef and its tourism potential.

One quote (of many available) used during the Inquiry comes from WWF pages on sugarcane.

“Declining water quality and climate change have had a devastating impact on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. It has lost half its coral cover since 1985 and if that trend continues, what coral is left could be halved again by 2022.”

Not acknowledged is that the reef, like vegetation regrowth, replenishes itself.

This and other similar examples of dishonest presentation of facts, is why most of the world believes that the Great Barrier Reef is dead.

This is why tourism on the Great Barrier Reef was on life support even prior to COVID.

These unelected, unaccountable bodies have influenced and distorted public opinion and regulation to the detriment of agriculture.

They appear to control the ALP government with a tight leash on agricultural policy with few limitations on their power.

By comparison, agriculture, which stands to lose the most, gets scant representation and only at a late stage. We submit that environmental organisations have already had too much influence at the cost of a balanced policy.

  • Joanne Rea is a cattle producer and the chair of landholder advocacy group Property Rights Australia.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


  1. Dean Logan, 16/09/2020

    It’s ironic to think that after fighting the environmental lobby (ENGOs) for nearly 16 years, both nationally and internationally, with regard to marine bio-regional planning (oceans policy), I brought the commercial fishing sector – primary producers – into the NFF board room for the first time in Australian history. Thanks mostly to Matt Linegar. Why? To ‘control the agenda’ and highlight how the marine mantra of ENGOs would ultimately be used against land based primarily producers. But guess what? The NFF ‘power brokers’ wouldn’t support the partnership!

    The Ag sector has so much to learn from ENGOs and so it’s disingenuous to assert they (ENGOs) have too much influence at the expense of balanced policy. Sorry, they win because they are smart. The NFF loses because they are dumb.

    In fact I would argue strongly – as a previous Executive Director of the Rice Growers Association of Australia – that the NFF has way too much influence, at the expense of the very people they purport to represent – farmers. The NFF is bitter, twisted, arrogant and often irrelevant when it comes to the rural, community, social, economic and environmental issues that really matter. They are silent on key policy items and fail dismally at winning the hearts and minds of those outside of the Ag bubble. This is evidenced by the NFF being simply unable to build broader more meaningful relationships: partnerships that would lead to progressive policy reform. And don’t even mention the word ‘incentive’ when it comes to NFF policy development: you’ll be thrown out of the room!

    The Ag sector is losing, not because the ENGOs are damn good at what they do, but because the NFF is so bad at what it does. I was apart of the ‘strengthening and streamlining’ process to build a progressive more vibrant future for Ag representation. What a waste of time. The list goes on.

    Summary: I would go as far as to argue the NFF is the greatest hurdle Australian agricultural has. ENGOs need do little but watch, as they go about their own businesses. How can the NFF change? Rather than criticise ENGOs learn from them. Pretty simple really.

  2. Brad Bellinger, 11/09/2020

    Thank you Joanne for a very good article .The democratic process upon which this country was built delivering exceptional living standards for its people is being eroded by these ngo,s that should be ignored by our parliamentary process unfortunately governments seem weak and totally city centric. Where are the Billy Hughes, Jack Lange. Joe and Floes.John Curtin’s, and the Ben Chifley’s

  3. Many years ago, I stopped donating to the WWF, Sea Shepherd and any other organisation that promotes extreme green ideology that holds the human race back, and I encourage everyone to do the same.
    My donations now go to organisations that help people such as St Vincent de Paul, The Deaf Society and The Smith Family.
    Joanne’s appraisal of these hearings is spot on. This was the chance for science bodies and environment groups to present unequivocal proof of their anti-farming claims and not one of them did it. All we heard was “just trust us, trust the models, we know more than you. Now run along and do what you’re told.”

  4. Joel, 11/09/2020

    I’m inclined to think any property owner, homeowners, cities, farms and grazing properties included, should be able to conduct their business on their own properties, as long as what they do does not effect their neighbors. That would include downstream neighbors, whether they are properties or ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef or it’s catchments. Being a good neighbor means making sure what you do does not have an impact on your neighbors, not just assuming it doesn’t. That’s where science comes in, demonstrating what’s needed to be a good neighbor.

  5. Norman Wright, 10/09/2020

    I’m with the farmers all the way!!!!

  6. Chris Atkinson, 10/09/2020

    Well said. The WWF is well known around the world for its corruption. For the Australian government to be involving them is abhorrent. We have the best scientists in the world right here in Aus. It is good that we are spending money studying and learning about the reef however vilifying the agricultural industry is only a ploy to bring in policy that will raise more funds for the WWF. This organisation is not about the environment, they are about raising dollars for there organisation. Environmental issues are only a front. It is time however that the agricultural industry stood up and fight hard now to get a body that will represent them. Cut the rest loose and start again, because at this point in time there is no one representing the Ag industry at government level.

  7. Dominic, 10/09/2020

    This is happening in NSW right now with proposed regulations to “protect koalas”. The question is, what can be done to counter it?

    • Joanne Rea, 10/09/2020

      “What can be done to counter it?”
      Please get on social media or wherever you can and point out to the Premier that the science of the environmental groups is not always correct.
      There were about 8,000 koalas killed by the Summer fires. Now the environmental groups that the Premier is listening to want to recreate those conditions on private land .
      Also controversial are the varieties of trees listed.
      Challenge the fire hazard and the science.
      The NSW Fire Inquiry will have some suggestions.

      • Daryl Jenkins, 11/09/2020

        The poor fire management on public lands managed by the National Parks and the urbanization of our coastal strip probably has a much greater influence on Koala numbers than agriculture in areas where Koalas have not existed for a very long time

  8. Matthew Della Gola, 10/09/2020

    Unfortunately our voices are only heard in forums like this where the people that need to hear our plights never visit. To add to your passionate story i would also like to to refer to Peter Ridd who im sure you are aware of. He was the creator of most of the technology that tests and recorded said data that is influencing political legislation and because he spoke contrary to the story they wanted to deliver he was ousted. I think we need the support from some of our larger and more financially able agricultural producers to voice our industies as loud as possible or potentially start leaning on our political system. Much like these so called charities with hidden agendas who receive money from ill informed supporters.

    • Joanne Rea, 10/09/2020

      Dr. Peter Ridd presented evidence at the Inquiry I have quoted from. His evidence was not rebutted.
      The ill-advised and hidden agendas of the “charities” you mention are very dangerous.
      The science always needs to be questioned.
      Silence is not an option.
      The web pages of the organisations you mention are often filled with inaccurate information and designed to convince sympathetic members of the public that they have the answer to all problems.
      They do not.

Get Beef Central's news headlines emailed to you -