Nothing reveals the clear divide between inner city and regional Queensland than the long, tumultuous history of land clearing.
The Palaszczuk government’s now failed changes to native vegetation law is a perfect example of how out-of-control environmentalism can hold back Australia’s agriculture and, indeed, our economic development.
The laws, which failed a vote in the Queensland Parliament last night, proposed to reverse the Newman government’s policy that allowed farmers to clear high value agricultural land.
These laws were designed to allow farmers to self asses to minimise any environmental damage and become the great conservationists we know they are.
The Newman laws are not a laissez faire approach to native vegetation as some green groups might have you believe. Under the LNP’s framework, land must be proved to be economically viable and the environmental effects minimised before clearing.
The Newman Government laws found the sensible middle ground between economic development in agriculture and environmental conservation.
Labor’s reforms would have completely destroyed this sensible compromise, locking up the most productive land for only marginal environmental gain.
Since 2013, when the Newman government relaxed the laws, around 112,400 hectares of high value agricultural land has been cleared. This represents a 0.6 per cent increase in land clearing, a miniscule amount given the conjecture.
Have we really reached a point in this divisive debate where vegetation is more valuable to the Government than productive economic activity and the viability of Queensland farms?
Apparently we have. Last week Andrew Piccone from the Australian Conservation Foundation blew the whistle on the environmentalist’s agenda. He claimed that “To improve economic opportunity in remote Australia we have to start thinking outside the marginal and unimaginative industries of last century – big cattle, big agriculture and big mining – which are in fact the greatest threat to the area’s prosperity.”
That deep hostility to Australia’s primary industries from Australia’s flagship environmental lobby says a lot about the ideological politics going on in these debates.
And they help explain why the now failed legislation doesn’t just prohibit farming, it punishes it.
For example, the Palaszczuk government’s Vegetation Management Act amendments represented a reversal of the burden of proof so that a farmer had to prove they were complying with the laws, rather than the government. These changes assumed farmers are environmental vandals.
This is an astounding breach of the rule of law. It is no surprise that the Queensland Law Society described the changes as a step backwards for justice.
Agriculture is a $53 billion industry that employs more than 350,000 people across Australia. It puts the food on our tables, and provides a livelihood for thousands of regional communities.
The recent Productivity Commission draft report into regulation of agriculture highlighted the breathtaking array of complex red tape our farmers are burdened with every day. Much of this red tape is pushed by these exact green groups not with the intention of protecting the environment, but to shut down productive industries.
The Institute of Public Affairs has estimated that red tape costs the Australian economy $176 bn a year in forgone economic output – equivalent to 11 per cent of GDP.
For decades’ groups like the Australian Conservation Foundation have demonised the minerals industry, pushing for more and more red tape that has hampered growth.
They won’t stop with this defeat. Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour in this case. Earlier this month a uranium mine in Western Australia that would have yielded hundreds of jobs, was blocked by the State’s Environmental Protection Authority after a submission by WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam pointed out the effect it could have on a blind, microscopic desert prawn measuring just 0.3mm in length.
Endless objections from green groups have meant that it has taken more than six years and a billion dollars of investment from Adani to get approval for its job creating central Queensland coal mine.
Now the red tape state is coming for agriculture.
It is refreshing to see farming groups like AgForce taking a stand against the creeping red tape activism into agriculture by taking to the streets to protest their property rights being stripped away.
The Palaszczuk minority Government rightly faced defeat on this crucial issue.
Evan Mulholland is Media and Communications Manager at the Institute of Public Affairs