THERE IS A BETTER WAY! – in social media capitals denotes shouting and this is what many Qld farmers and graziers feel like doing, caught out in the midst of the rough and tumble of the latest match of vegetation management political football.
The frustration is palpable, as seen in the rural media, social commentary, in submissions to this latest Bill and to the inquiry hearings.
The people, who provide food for the table of Queenslanders, all Australians and also contribute to the economy through exports, are feeling demoralised, denigrated and misunderstood.
The explanation given by the Palaszczuk government for the latest changes to the Vegetation Management Act (VMA) and the contrived debate in the lead up, is not the reality known to those who live and work with these rural landscapes.
Statistics are used out of context to create alarm and an imperative to toughen up the VMA.
But if government did care to listen and embark on genuine consultation and two-way communication with food producers, it would learn that at fault is not what adjustment is made to the VMA, but the very basis of the VMA is at fault. A different approach is needed – there is a better way.
At the Longreach hearing Dominic Burden, chairman of natural resource management group Desert Channels Queensland, called for an outcomes approach instead of regulatory approach.
“An outcomes based approach allows for some flexibility in achieving that goal and can produce some innovative methods for managing vegetation that cannot be achieved through prescriptive systems.”[i]
At the Cairns hearing Justin MacDonnell outlined how the government’s use of vegetation management as a political football creates fear, encourages what clearing can be done and is punitive to prudent land managers.
“We need to see vegetation management resolved and removed as a political football. It is not acceptable for you to trade my family’s future and the future of people in this room and our viability just so you can attract some political gain and achieve favourable preference deals by chasing inner city green votes.” [ii]
In the submission that I wrote, I never bothered with what provisions were in the Bill but tried to communicate the frustration of the bush and to leave the prescriptive approach using the tools of control & coercion to an outcomes approach using the tools of cooperation, on ground reality and respect.
“Such methodology creates distrust, division and resentment. It creates minimal adherence to an alien constraint to the realities that agricultural producers live, work and know. The urban politician who make these types of laws and the public servant who administers the law appear oblivious to how they, through these legislative instruments, indifference and ignorance, cripple the farming community and all those other levels of the community reliant on farmers being able to continue effective and profitable farming.” [iii]
The Palaszczuk government would do well to replicate the approach taken by Major General Michael Jeffery as The National Soil Advocate in his report, Restore the soil: Prosper the nation. It calls for collaboration and knowledge sharing. This is a call for a better way we should aspire to of how environmental considerations are meshed with agricultural production
“The policy will recognise Australia’s soil, water and vegetation as key national natural strategic assets, better support our 130,000 farmers as stewards of about 60 percent of the Australian continent, and seek to reconnect urban Australians with their rural roots through establishing school gardens in every primary and junior high school through the National Curriculum. The policy will support long term research directed at priorities identified through a stocktake of our scientific knowledge of soils and Research Development and Extension capacity, and where possible encourage regulatory consistency for farmers.” [iv]
There is a Better way which is not the false different approach in an opinion piece last week where it was proposed that farmers and environmentalists should bypass Governments and work together.
For goodness sake, allowing environmental non-government organisations (ENGO) have such a large input is why landowners find themselves in the current untenable situation. Talk to landowners who represented agricultural interests on government tree clearing consultant/ reference committees over the years. Negotiations prior to the introduction of the VMA were marred by the practice of the ENGO’s engaging landowners to reach a compromise position. The ink was barely dry on signing off on an agreement and another campaign would launched by the ENGO’s leading to another round of negotiations. It’s called the ratchet effect – take up control one click at a time. At the same time the ENGO’s would be trying to short circuit the negotiations by getting in government’s ear.
For an insight into the disingenuous, underhanded way that ENGO’s approach negotiation with farmers read what they say themselves in the document, ‘Rethinking deliberative governance: dissecting the Queensland landclearing campaign’. Look under the heading of ‘Rethinking deliberative governance’ on the top of page 7. [v]
The Queensland Seafood Industry Association (QSIA) has been forced into a reform process by the Qld government and are questioning the role of environmental groups.
“Environmental groups pose a significant threat to the long-term viability of the commercial seafood industry in Queensland. The Queensland Seafood Industry Association will continue to advocate for the removal of any environmental group representative on working groups.
The interest of the environment can be protected by government agencies that have a conservation mandate – the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing. Why then should environmental, special interest groups have a seat at the policy table with commercial and recreational groups as well government?” [vi] [vii]
WWF has revealed in its submission that beyond the government’s current amendments that WWF wishes to ratchet up further controls. This includes removing the protections of PMAV mapping; severely restrict the use of bulldozers to push mulga to feed livestock in drought and have graziers lop mulga; and that thinning operations be done selectively with a chainsaw.
This is the organisation that on a number of occasions called regrowth control, deforestation. Now marry this thought with the policy of the WWF initiated Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) of zero deforestation. [viii] The author of the above mentioned opinion piece calling for farmers and environmentalists to work together, Greg Brown when as President of Cattle Council Australia, tried to take the entire Australian beef supply chain into membership of GRSB.
A new approach is needed for environmental law. Without change the ENGO’s will continue to ratchet up a click at a time tighter controls, just as a python constricts its victim.
The Queensland ALP appear addicted to the need of a new calamity scenario at election time to gain that extra few percentage of votes to get a few candidates over the line.
Not only should the different agricultural sectors unite against this unacceptable situation but also stand with other primary producers and support QSIA call for removal of ENGO’s from the policy table.
THERE IS A BETTER WAY!