Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Green tape debacle is back”

6 February 2015

While the final results are still being calculated and the negotiations among the elected parties are still in motion, it would be remiss of me, as a Queensland Senator, to not spend some time in this column discussing my state’s election outcome.

Firstly, it must be said that no one – not even the most devout Labor supporter – could have anticipated the major swing to the ALP at the weekend that has placed that party within grasp of government.

With the possible scenario that Labor could form government in Queensland in the coming days; we must now turn our focus to how this shift could impact on our agriculture sector and the ambitions to double output by 2040.

As you might imagine, I do not believe the prognosis would be bright.

While Labor has remained light on detail regarding its agriculture strategy, the actual announcements made during the campaign indicate there is a very real possibility that a government led by current Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk would allow the agriculture policy pendulum to once again swing too far towards extreme green politics.

Firstly, we have Ms Palaszczuk’s pledge to introduce another unnecessary level of bureaucracy in the form of a new animal welfare advisory board consisting of technical, community and industry representatives to advise on issues associated with the development and promotion of codes of practice for the humane treatment of production animals.

This policy takes its inspiration from Federal Labor’s Animal Welfare Strategy Advisory Committee, which was shut down early last year by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce because its oversight and policy development role could be easily absorbed back into the Federal Department of Agriculture, saving the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Secondly, there is Ms Palaszczuk’s pledge, delivered during her campaign launch address to a packed room of party faithful in Brisbane, “to reintroduce Labor’s nation-leading tree clearing laws.”

To use a popular phrase from another Labor leader – former Prime Minister Paul Keating – that comment became a shiver just looking for a spine to run up.

It quickly found its target across the backs of farmers in every corner of the state.

Within hours of her declaration, phone calls and emails were being circulated across the bush as people warned each other of what Ms Palaszczuk had proclaimed.

Queensland Country Life even dedicated several pages of its next edition to Ms Palaszczuk’s pledge.

The consensus is clear across rural Queensland – Labor is barking up the wrong tree if it believes re-introducing this legislation will do anything but undermine agriculture’s ability to contribute to the state economy.

Whoever finally takes government will still have to develop a plan to tackle the $80 billion debt strangling Queensland.

The new government will also still be forced to tackle the $450,000 the state disburses in interest payments every hour to its creditors.

Now is not the time to be jeopardising farmers’ profitability by tinkering with the workable and popular vegetation management reforms of the LNP government.

Despite this, if history tells us anything, agriculture under a Labor government would be highly likely to lose its place as one of the four pillars of the state economy (as it had been under the LNP) and would instead return to being a junior ministry position (as it languished for almost two decades of previous Labor government rule).

While I have high doubts any Labor State government would truly serve the interests of rural industry, I believe lessons have been learnt by farming bodies and landholders since the time when the Beattie government enforced its tree clearing legislation on Queensland farmers.

I believe the policy and scientific justification for a common-sense approach that includes self-accessible codes has strengthened significantly in recent years.

The LNP government has provided a valuable template for how a common sense policy approach can be successfully developed that trusts farmers to be responsible custodians over their land.

There have been various case studies undertaken in recent years to prove grazing land lost to invasive vegetation, or thickened woodlands, can be responsibly brought back into useful production for grazing or cropping and the efficient control of pest weeds.

Simply put, there is also a need for a profitable rural sector, especially following the mining downturn. Labor cannot ignore this fact.

Perhaps one of the lasting legacies of this LNP government will be arming rural industry with considerably strengthened scientific and policy arguments to combat extreme green ideologues.

And Ms Palaszczuk should not underestimate the resolve of rural people and their elected representatives to use this arsenal to stop any plans to bring back the draconian tree police from the days of Beattie and Bligh.