FEARS that fiery land clearing clashes, sparked by looming reforms to native vegetation laws, will drive a wedge between farmers and urban communities are emerging to cloud the debate over long awaited reforms.
The issue cropped up last week when NSW Young Farmers chairman Josh Gilbert resigned, saying land clearing could hurt NSW’s agriculture brand in the same vein as live export controversy and many conservation groups are preparing to campaign against the reforms.
“We’ve seen similar things from live export. We’ve seen how quickly things can turn against agriculture when things go wrong,” he said.
“I can’t estimate the brand pressure on this. It could wreck our reputation and really create damage for Australian mum and dad farmers on the land.”
NSW Farmers is currently in a confidential consultation process with the state government over the shape of the Biodiversity Act reform. Both parties have copped criticism over the secrecy of the process.
We’ve seen how quickly things can turn against agriculture when things go wrong- Climate campaigner Josh Gilbert
NSW Farmers said members were not gagged from sharing their views on the reforms.
Many praised Mr Gilbert for his stance, but he also copped a social media barrage from opponents who accused him of bowing to environmentalists and failing to understand the reforms.
The 24-year-old climate advocate alleged a senior non-staff member in NSW Farmers threatened personal attacks if he spoke out against the proposed reforms, but chose not to name them.
“I was told that if I was to come and speak out against (the reform), the people who already attack me would increase in number and increase (their efforts), including people in NSW Farmers. My interpretation was that it was a threat,” he said.
NSW Farmers President Derek Schoen said NSW Farmers was a democratic organisation.
“Our policy is debated and determined on the floor of our annual conference,” he said.
“Josh has never expressed any interest or concern about our native vegetation policy until the day before he resigned.”
“He also turned down a personal briefing on the issue by me and our policy team.“
NSW Farmers will discuss a resolution to review its process for handling grievances at its executive council meeting in March.
Meanwhile, Mr Gilbert said he was heartened to have been contacted by a number of members who said his opposition had paved the way for a more open debate.
He said while most farmers could be trusted with relaxed land clearing regulations, an over-zealous minority posed a serious threat to the state’s agriculture brand.