The reputation of the New South Wales Coalition Government in the area of environmental management has taken yet another tumble. Along with decimation of National Parks, poor management of Murray-Darling water, failure to act on carbon emissions and ignorance of species extinction, it has decided to allow wilful destruction of habitat through deforestation.
As a report in revealed, the Berejiklian Government has decided to grant an amnesty to farmers who have cleared land illegally.
Various spokespersons for farmers have repeatedly claimed that they are true conservationists. They have argued that the continued success of their enterprises requires that they adopt practices that will ensure that the health of the environment is promoted. They always argue against alienation of prime farmland for other purposes whether it be mining, hobby farming or community usages such as National Parks.
Now farmers’ custodianship of the environment is seriously in question. The National Party really should have been aware of the damage this amnesty would do to the reputation of farmers. It is no wonder that the federal government has found it necessary to introduce draconian legislation to deter activists entering rural properties in order to demonstrate over animal rights. Despite the Nationals’ Leader’s aggressive behaviour in the aftermath of the federal election, respect for farmers must be at an all time low. Habitat destruction, culling of native species, removal of Indigenous artefacts and use of biocidal agents such as pesticides,herbicides and fungicides contradict claims about ecological awareness.
These practices which damage farmers’ reputations tend to be adopted at the behest of international agribusiness conglomerates. These advocate use of chemical farming, genetically modified crops and large machines. The farmer who treasured a small acreage and lived in symbiosis with his or her environment has long been a threatened species. Family farms are few and far between.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of a laissez-faire approach to land clearing is that it implies approval of farming in marginal areas. For decades, it has been acknowledged that Australia’s soils differ from those in Europe and North America where agricultural practices were established. It is not just that particular care must be taken when disturbing soils in many areas. In most of the continent, the soils should not be disturbed at all. The dust storms of the last few years which lifted tons of soil and bore it on westerly winds to the eastern seaboard were a man-made phenomenon.
At both state and federal levels, Coalition policy has been to blame the drought for environmental ills. The policy has been to talk up the need to support struggling farmers. There is no doubt that anyone, regardless of occupation, should receive community support sufficient to guarantee their health and wellbeing, and especially the welfare of their families. When it comes to farming marginal lands however, government funds would be much better spent on helping farmers to change locations or even occupations. As most farmers do not have employers, government alone can offer redundancy packages.
It has long been a mantra of National Party propagandists that too much land has been locked up so that it cannot be used for agricultural and pastoral purposes. They have argued that National Parks exist only for urban recreation. Yet the continual environmental degradation being inflicted in New South Wales particularly will inevitably lead to more and more land being alienated from industrial use. Sadly, even should large areas be designated as parks, they will take generations to recover from inappropriate use. The Coalition really needs to pay less attention to the needs of marginal seats and more to the needs of marginal lands.
Dr Tony Smith is a former political science academic with interests in parliament, elections and political ethics.