Cold com­fort in ‘we told you so’

The Western Star - - Rural Weekly - Grow­com CEO DAVID THOM­SON

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.

PHOTO: FILE

Gov­ern­ments should use car­rots to re­ward farm­ers rather than sticks to pun­ish them.

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