Our story in Australia begins more than 40,000 years ago, as our Indigenous Brothers and Sisters sustainably farmed the earth we walk on, the water that flows around us and the air we breathe. They used sophisticated farming practices to sustain and work with the environment in order to feed our families, our communities and our culture. But the knowledge of these shared, sustainable practices have faded away into the minds of our Indigenous Elders, as we instead embolden competition over land for property development, Western agricultural practices and mining.
In January this year, I stood down from my 2 year role as the Chair of NSW Young Farmers over the Native Vegetation policy of the broader association. I was disappointed by bullying tactics involved in getting the association’s policy into the government and society, the lack of appreciation for alternative view points and the unwillingness to consider and appreciate the environmental concerns in their proposed policy.
After seeing the devastating impact of land clearing during and prior to the 1970’s, including over a million hectares cleared in 1974, public outcry demanded change. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, all Australian states and territories introduced legislation to protect native vegetation, noting the inherent concerns regarding land degradation, salinity, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions.
But even with these policies balancing the public interest and the environment with structural and business development, our demand for more land persists. Even now, we still average around one million hectares of land clearing each decade.
Despite the impact of land clearing on climate change and the wider environment, some agricultural lobby groups publicly maintain that land clearing is needed to ensure the landscape is workable for farmers, to protect food security and for our farmers to be productive and profitable. Internally, they idolise the Queensland legislation for the ‘triple bottom line accounting’ principles it provides, seek that the Local Land Services not be involved in the policies regulation or compliance and hold that the Office of Environment and Heritage have ‘limited input’ into the development of the new legislation.
The newly released policy provides little balance to the modern competing interests for land. In particular:
- The definition of ecologically sustainable development does not encourage a true “triple bottom line” accounting approach. The economic incentives, such as profit and an increase in land prices, undermines the environmental and social pillars, especially in times of financial turbulence such as drought;
- It establishes a defence of ignorance for harming a threatened species or a protected animal by adding an additional proof that the person knew their clearing would cause harm;
- It provides no consideration to the climate change impacts resulting from any clearing; and;
- The Minister for Primary Industries will become the lead Minister governing land clearing. The Minister will also be able to cancel stewardship arrangements in order to allow mining or petroleum developments to proceed.
We know that these views do not reflect the values of society or the entire farming public. Tonight is the start of our opportunity to work with the people in the room who share our values to create change and make sure we do not return to broad scale land clearing in Australia.
Like me, I know that you all care about this crucial matter, and together, I know we can make change to ensure we protect the environment AND create sustainable farms with strong livelihoods for farmers.
Our first steps towards change are to:
- Start the conversation with friends and family;
- Host a screening of 'Restoring Earth';
- Write a submission to the NSW Government and attend a public consultation;
- Contact Mike Baird;
- Meet with your local State MP.
By coming together, we show that we don’t agree with destroying the environment for short term gains- gains that will benefit property developers and mining companies more than the farmers the policy seeks to allegedly accommodate for. Tonight is proof we can create change and that sharing the stories of the past can help influence the policy of tomorrow, and hopefully for generations to come.
'I've never met a forward thinking, innovative farmer who has ever wanted to clear#nativeveg!"- Pam Brook