The primary sector noted with interest the Federal Labor Party’s commitment on the weekend to an Environmental Protection Agency and national environment act.
The pledge, coming just weeks after Queensland suffered its most devastating ever bushfires fuelled by the state’s stifling vegetation management laws, has the sector understandably wary. Not because, as some would have us believe, primary producers are anti-environment; primary producers are strongly supportive of fair and sensible environmental preservation and repair initiatives.
Our concerns stem from the historic failure of law-makers to genuinely consult with us when formulating environmental legislation, instead pandering to the passionate but often misguided urban-based green lobby. But, as an industry that prides itself on innovation, adaptability and leadership, we must also consider the opportunity this presents.
Properly constituted federal legislation that co-ordinates – and doesn’t duplicate or contradict – the various state codes and bodies could simplify the current complex, confusing and counter-productive arrangements. But this could only happen on one condition – genuine and ongoing consultation with the primary industries from the beginning.
We applaud (with cautious optimism) Tony Burke’s commitments to tackle inefficiencies, delays and hurdles in the system, to give business more certainty, and to involve affected industries in developing the system. Time will tell if this is delivered.
What is certain is that, with half of Australia’s land area devoted to growing our food and fibre, primary producers are central to efforts to preserve native vegetation and biodiversity.
The effects of poor laws are far-reaching.
The Productivity Commission notes the impact that complex, confusing environmental legislation has not only on farmers’ ability to manage their land, but on creating worse environmental outcomes. We have seen this devastating reality first hand.
The commission also blames overlap and inconsistency between federal, state and, in some cases, local, requirements for reducing efficiency, productivity and sustainability. The introduction of further layers of legislation and regulation offers this very real risk.
As the sector that feeds and clothes the nation, we cannot afford this to happen.
If Labor is elected next year, the primary sector must do everything we can to ensure a responsive consultation process, then actively, constructively and fully participate to safeguard the industry for future generations.