Wide-ranging dialogue finds common ground on rangelands

Rangelands policy dialogue in Brisbane reaches consensus in many areas

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An unusual but encouraging dialogue happened in Brisbane last week - economists, pastoralists, public servants, scientists, peak bodies and natural resource managers stayed engaged in a room together for two days, and found common ground.

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An unusual but encouraging dialogue happened in Brisbane last week - economists, pastoralists, public servants, scientists, peak bodies and natural resource managers with vastly different world views stayed engaged in a room together for two days, and found common ground.

Even more encouragingly, it was the future of Queensland's rangelands specifically that gave the 100 invited participants the determination to remain engaged and talking.

The two-day policy dialogue was instigated by the Royal Society of Queensland together with AgForce and the NRM regions, built on a common desire to craft a strategy that "could lead the pastoral industry to a future that is sustainably profitable and environmentally sustainable".

According to RSQ president Geoff Edwards, there was concern that profitability in the state's rangelands wasn't high enough to feed investment back into landscape regeneration.

"Orthodox policy settings are seeing pastoralism as individual businesses so that if they fail, it's their fault," he said. "We say, don't pile the shame on, we need more people invested in the land."

Seven-minute presentations given by participants resulted in what was described as spirited debate. More than that, they helped those present find common ground, according to AgForce CEO Mike Guerin.

"The rangelands are an incredible natural resource that are undervalued," he said.

"They go all the way round the globe and Queensland's got a lot of them.

"We debated all sorts of topics but ultimately we need to lift their visibility, the same way as the Great Barrier Reef is. The rangelands are not talked about in the same way."

He said it had been an enormous step forward to have influential people acknowledge their value and listen respectfully to different views regarding their management.

It had enabled the group to identify common ground that a broad coalition of trust could work on.

"For instance, we talked about vegetation management and the World Wildlife Fund talked about national parks and tourism, but the common ground between us was economic investment to support both agriculture and the travelling public.

"While circles will never completely overlap, there's common areas around the better management of state land and national parks.

"This is why the conversation was so good. Usually we are all fighting on our issues for our people.

"This time we all sat in the same room and didn't leave because we all recognise we've got an asset and we all want to support it."

Comments from the two main protagonists about the outcomes illustrate the delicate path that was negotiated - while Dr Edwards said it was obvious from the debate that 'business as usual' wasn't possible, thanks to climate change, Mr Guerin said he hadn't seen climate change dominate debate, although it was an element.

Dr Edwards said unambiguous evidence had been presented that north west Queensland now had the most variable climate in the world.

"People are not quite sure how to translate to a new future, given this," he said, adding that doubt had been expressed about whether Australia would be able to feed itself in years to come.

Despite these deep questions, Dr Edwards said they had tried not to focus on national settings like trade and immigration.

Thanks to the broad consensus reached on a number of issues, outcomes are now being compiled for insights into where people with an affinity for the pastoral industry should be directing their efforts, for a call to action.

Mr Guerin said he hoped it would become a national conversation.

"We hope the Royal Society of Queensland takes it to the national body, where they'd be able to think of policy settings we can use to come to grips with areas of common interest, such as forest management."

In the meantime, he said the profile of Queensland's rangelands had been lifted, thanks to the RSQ, and AgForce planned to stay engaged with the process.

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