Comments attributable to Tony Mahar, Chief Executive, National Farmers’ Federation
As custodians of more than half of Australia’s landmass, farmers play a central role in caring for and improving our natural environment. Any genuine plan to protect and improve biodiversity can only succeed in partnership with the farming community.
Today’s response to the Samuel Review by Minister Plibersek represents a significant shift in Federal environment laws. Whether these changes will support or hinder farmers’ environmental stewardship will depend heavily on the detail of how they’re implemented.
We thank Minister Plibersek for the consultative way she has developed the Government’s response. The NFF has been a vocal critic of the existing EPBC Act. The Act has failed family farmers who want to do the right thing by the environment, but don’t have a team of lawyers on staff to wade through complex rules and approvals.
The Minister’s commitment to faster and more predictable approvals will go some way to easing those concerns. Farmers want clarity on the rules, and to be recognised for the stewardship role they play.
Dangerous proposals left off the table
We welcome the Minister’s decision to disregard calls for both a new climate trigger, and a new merits review process.
The NFF opposed each of these suggestions, which would have added new and untested complexity to an already unwieldy regulatory system.
New National Environmental Standards and regional planning need to be done right
The NFF has been closely involved in work to date on a new set of National Environmental Standards. We’ve long called for regional scale planning, and welcome Minister Plibersek’s commitment to head down that path. It will be important that it is sufficiently broad and doesn’t just create a regional approval process.
Of course, regional planning is only as good as the data that underpins it. A lot of farmers will bristle when they hear the Federal Government is getting out the crayons to create a traffic light map – particularly when regions differ significantly across the country and this needs to be recognised. We need to respect that farmland is a privately owned asset and requires active management to protect the environment.
We’ll work closely with the Government in the months ahead to ensure regional plans are based on accurate data and a holistic view of the landscape.
Environment Protection Agency Advisory Group cause for concern
We note the confirmation that a federal Environment Protection Agency will be established as per Labor’s election commitment. However, what is new is the creation of an advisory group which is to provide assurance and advice to the Minister.
We need to understand how the EPA’s new advisory body will add value over and above the multiple advisory groups that already exist under the Act, and indeed the role of the proposed EPA.
We will seek further clarity on the role, power and representation on this group during consultations, but for now it remains a concern. If implemented, it must have appropriate farm sector representation.
Land clearing laws to remain in state hands
We note continued misleading commentary regarding the scale and impact of land clearing in Australia.
It’s important to emphasise that state governments have well developed frameworks for managing land clearing. It would be a mistake to duplicate this federally.
NFF remains committed to achieving workable outcomes for farmers
The NFF has been at the table now for multiple years, ensuring the concerns of farmers are considered as part of this review.
We remain committed to working with Minister Plibersek as she implements the measures outlined today. Working in partnership with farmers is the most meaningful thing the Government can do to maintain and improve our biodiversity.This partnership needs to empower and reward farmers as environmental stewards, not tie them up in red tape. Positive biodiversity outcomes cannot be achieved through regulation alone. We need to equally remain focussed on new mechanisms to reward farmers – such as the new Biodiversity Credits Scheme – and efforts to manage threats such as predation from feral animals.