Cold comfort in ‘we told you so’
THERE is a negative feedback loop at the centre of our approach to environmental regulation in Queensland that is going to deliver worse outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree, the Simpson Desert and everywhere else in between.
We’re certainly not the first to raise it, but it’s worth highlighting every now and then so at least we can say we told you so.
Agriculture keeps being asked to carry the can on behalf of the rest of the population and the entire economy.
Asking agriculture to continue to absorb the costs of environmental regulation, to take on the increasing burden of protecting the environment, is unsustainable.
It should come as no surprise that under an increasing load, something will give. And what gives first will be the family farm.
Those who are already stretched by market or climate conditions will feel the pain of additional green tape and exit agriculture.
More often than not, when a family farm is sold, it’s aggregated into a larger operation which itself is under pressure to turn a profit.
We need to understand that having fewer people on the land, who are all struggling to make ends meet, is a poor result for the environment.
Australian ecosystems have evolved over millennia, with a strong and purposeful human presence.
We must get our heads around the idea that family farms are not just the linchpin of local and regional economies, but are central to thriving local and regional ecologies. More than just recognise them for this role, we must start to reward them.
Part of the increasing pressure on Australian agriculture comes in the form of competition from farmers overseas who are paid by their governments to deliver outcomes for the environment.
For example, the Common Agriculture Policy in Europe and the Farm Bill in the US both provide billions each year in taxpayer subsidies to farmers for reserving land for nature, reducing erosion, and other conservation programs.
It’s high time the Queensland and Australian Governments think about doing the same.
Rather than simply write more regulation in their name, our politicians must grasp the nettle and put it to the public, that if they want results for the environment then they’ve got to be prepared to pay for it.
Governments should use carrots to reward farmers rather than sticks to punish them.