Farmers make the day-to-day management decisions for more than 70 per cent of Australia’s land mass and 70 per cent of the water diverted from our rivers and streams. They are the most important stakeholders in good environmental management. They are passionate about protecting our natural resource base in a bid to ensure
sustainable agricultural industries for their children and their children’s children.
Environmental protection and biodiversity conservation is the shared responsibility of all Australians. However, Commonwealth and state legislation generally imposes much of the cost of public good conservation directly on farmers.
Farmers’ property rights are often reduced or removed to achieve a community benefit, at no cost to the wider community. Farmers ought not to be expected to foot the bill for public good outcomes that benefit the broader community. Such policies result in poor outcomes for the environment, for the economy and for farming
Just as city businesses are compensated if the government resumes land to put a freeway through their property, farmers should be compensated if their ability to farm their land is compromised by legislation in the public interest.
Farmers are constantly interacting with the natural environment. By contrast, most Australians live in urban environments. And while they may have a strong interest in environmental issues, they do not experience the immediate consequences of variable climate, pests, feral animals, weeds, disease and environmental degradation to the
Threatened species are rarely located in urban environments. They are generally found outside metropolitan areas, often on farming land. The aim of the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, recently passed by Federal Government, is to preserve threatened species for the benefit of the entire
community – but it does so by imposing onerous regulations and costs on farmers thereby reducing landholders’ ability to manage their farm without compensation. This heavy-handed approach results in poor outcomes for the environment, for the economy and for farming communities.
A better approach would be to share equitably the costs of conservation and environmental outcomes between landholders and the general public. Incentives could be given to farmers with significant environmental features on their land to manage them for the benefit of the community, so that the community contributes to the costs
imposed on farmers of so doing.
If regulations that reduce or remove farmers’ ability to manage their land autonomously are imposed on farmers by the general community to achieve environmental objectives, then the general community should be willing to compensate farmers for any erosion in their ability to generate income from their land.
Developing and introducing new methods of managing land to preserve biodiversity can be costly, and the Commonwealth Government’s commitment to research and development, plus compensation for adjustment costs, has a valuable role to play.
Farmers are also suffering because the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is not consistent with state land management and conservation regimes. The on-ground impact of the Commonwealth legislation, on top of state interventions, has not
been thought through thoroughly and is causing farm management problems.
The EPBC Act has a number of major deficiencies. A landowner can be managing the land fully in accordance with state legislation but be in breach of the Commonwealth Act. The onus is on the landowner to be aware of the implications of the EPBC Act. Neither local nor state government authorities have any obligation to advise
landowners of the implications of the EPBC Act and Commonwealth bureaucrats do not have an understanding of local issues to give appropriate advice.
There is no provision for effective consultation with landowners. The implication is that the Commonwealth has a complete understanding of the preferred approach to land and water management to achieve environmental and social objectives in every part of the country, whereas in reality this knowledge is more likely to reside within
the local community.
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