OPINION: by Robert BomNews Weekly
Government strangling country people with red tape
, December 11, 2010
Matters have taken a turn for the worse this year for country people in Queensland. A 57-page manual of technical regulations was suddenly imposed on cattle and cane-farmers in the catchment areas along the Great Barrier Reef coastline.
In the north, Mr Paul Schembri, chairman of Canegrowers Mackay, representing 1,000 growers in Australia's largest cane-producing region, had this to say: "These new environmental regulations came into effect on January 1, 2010.
"The level of consultation with the industry in advance of the announcement of the legislation was non-existent. (It was) another slap in the face for farmers.
"From the canegrowers organisation's perspective, we believe that it is all about demonising farmers to pander to the Green movement. The state government can now claim they have saved the reef by regulating farmers. In fact, these regulations will make little difference to the environment."
According to Mr Schembri, the Bligh Labor Government's approach to these regulations is to use the "big stick".
He continued: "The new state regulations are onerous and bureaucratic. It takes compliance and micro-management of farmers to a new level.
"In contrast, the federal government's Reef Rescue $200 million program is designed to help change farm practices. It is voluntary, with the guiding principle that farmers know best and make better environmental managers than government or government regulations."
Some of the Queensland onerous regulations include the following:
1) For every tank of agricultural chemicals used, the farmer has to fill in a form with no less than 30 different pieces of information required.
2) Mandatory soil-testing to match fertiliser programs, effectively capping the amount of fertiliser applied.
3) Farmers now need a licence to apply agricultural chemicals.
4) The completion of a nearly impossible document identifying all potential environmental risk factors on farms.
Mr Schembri said, "Yet farmers know that their key inputs of fertiliser and chemicals are far too expensive to waste. The state government has ignored all the great strides taken by cane-farmers to lessen their environmental footprint."
Furthermore, the recently announced liquefied natural gas (LNG) expansion and the coal-seam gas extraction furore are causing a farmer revolt.
On LNG expansion and extraction of coal-seam gas, feelings have been strongly stirred up by the discovery of cancer-causing agents at a number of exploration sites. The fear is that these agents could poison underground water supplies permanently. This would be devastating to land-holders as, without acceptable water for people, animals and crops, farmers will be unable to continue trading.
In the north, cattle-owners and cane-farmers feel they are being pushed out of their industries by oppressive environmental regulations. To the south, farmers and environmental groups are united in a common cause by the fear of carcinogenic substances leaching into permanent underground water supplies.
The Queensland Labor Government of Anna Bligh is in dire straits financially and looking for revenue. LNG expansion and royalties could help the government out of a financial trough.
The insistence on government asset sales shows that the government is prepared to lose ALP-held seats over the issue. Farmers are dispensable, and never a good source for ALP votes anyway.
It seems reasonable to assume that the government's first priority is to improve Queensland's finances and to create wealth in the short to medium term. Farmers will have to take a back seat, with the government hoping that collateral damage (including the risk of cancer-causing substances seeping into water supplies) can be minimised.
Perhaps Labor's second priority is to gain Green kudos on the subject of environmental protection. Given the nonsensical and hard-line approach of the government on farming regulation along the Great Barrier Reef region, it is fair to assume this is an attempt to capture some moral high ground from the Greens.
Like their colleagues in the coal-seam gas exploration areas, primary producers from Mackay to Cairns would do well to pound on the doors of their state MPs and complain about the unreasonable impositions being foisted on them.
Without some action, the regulations will finish up as chips on the bargaining table when the ALP and the Greens sort out preference deals for the next state election.Robert Bom lives in Rockhampton, Queensland.