Farmers Federation lobby for ‘statutory theft’ reparations

By Melissa Coade

Monday October 11, 2021

Tony Mahar, National Farmers Federation CEO
Tony Mahar, National Farmers Federation CEO. (Australian Farmers)

The Nationals party members have been briefed by Farmers Federation representatives as part of a push for the government to pay compensation over land clearing legislation from 30 years ago.

Farmers Federation president Fiona Simpson issued a statement on Monday declaring that the unknowing contributions Australian producers had made to climate change targets over several decades should be compensated. 

According to Simpson, land clearing laws introduced in Queensland and New South Wales in the 1990s and early 2000s — which she also characterised as ‘statutory theft’ — had unwittingly resulted in landowners making a significant contribution to Australia’s Kyoto commitment targets

“A significant proportion of more than 400 million tonnes of excess carbon sequestration was delivered through this process,” Simpson said, suggesting that government debt to landowners was well overdue. 

“If [the effect of this legislation came into force] today, landholders would be eligible to participate in the Emission Reduction Fund or a secondary carbon market and receive income for this activity, but not then. 

“It still hurts and now is the time to square the ledger,” she added. 

Simpson said that the federation supported Australia having a net-zero emissions target by 2050, noting that the target should adopt an ‘economy-wide’ approach, and that farmers should not be ‘burdened’ with unnecessary regulation. 

“Government must not expect prime farmland to be converted to a massive carbon sink. Farmers have a job to feed and clothe the world and to power the nation’s economy.

“Of course farming is also an integral part of rural and regional communities. The resilience of the regions is always paramount, and in these uncertain times it has been the farm sector that has been a consistent and reliable contributor,” she said. 

In terms of the future role that the agricultural sector had to contribute to Australia’s zero emissions goals, Simpson pointed to the decades’ long work already underway and said there needed to be more low and no-til farming. She also said the adoption of new technologies for animal production and maintaining vegetation on farm would go a long way.

“Australian farmers are world-leaders in the adoption of new technologies and innovation, there is no reason to expect it will be any different in this context, but it has to make economic and production sense.”

“There is still work to do, but this shows that we will need to see other sectors also contribute as the real villain is carbon dioxide, and, as the Grattan Institute pointed out in their recent report, farmers extract [sequester] much more of that than they release (emit),” Simpson said. 

On Monday Simpson and the president of AgForce Queensland Georgie Somerset briefed the Nationals party room with a view to addressing what the federation says are inequalities of the past and consult on the next best steps for what it considers is in the interests of the agricultural sector. 

Among the issues raised at the briefing were the need for a better understanding of soil carbon, how new technologies investments can reduce methane emissions from ruminant livestock, as well as the issue of redressing its ‘statutory theft’ claim. 

Simon said that reparations would go a long way to convincing the farming community to be ‘enthusiastic participants and supporters’ of any future national emissions reduction scheme. 

“Agriculture has a great story to tell. Farmers positively contribute to emission reduction solutions, provide jobs and support communities,” Simpson said. 

“Today, we are calling for government to right the wrongs of the past, so together we can work towards a lower emissions future and the NFF-led goal for agriculture to be Australia’s next $100 billion industry.”

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