FARMERS say they’ll refuse support for any environmental regulation on agricultural land under the state’s new clearing laws - unless government is prepared to get its wallet out.
Members of NSW Farmers’ native vegetation working group say they expect an urgency motion to pass at annual conference this week which would see support withheld for new conservation rules if government did not cover landholder costs resulting from environmental regulations placed on their property.
Government, meanwhile, said it had committed Local Land Services to running a pilot in the state’s north west that will examine the scale of costs involved in farmers engaging in the offsets-development system “to ensure costs are reasonable”.
More than 200 NSW Farmers delegates will be at the Marriott in Circular Quay for the annual conference running from Tuesday to Thursday.
The native veg urgency motion, expected to be discussed during environmental policy on Wednesday, is:
“That NSW Farmers work towards a long term policy principle for Natural Resource Management and biodiversity in which for environmental regulation on ag lands, that no regulation be supported until commercially competitive incentives are provided by the regulating authority. Specifically to ensure that all additional regulated conservation costs on ag lands are met primarily by government, not the landholder.”
Native vegetation working group chair Mitchell Clapham said he expected the motion to have strong support.
The spectre of the NSW Biodiversity and LLS reforms also cast a pall over last year’s annual conference.
This time 12 months ago, the Association had withdrawn support for the draft regime, accusing government of withholding crucial details on the rate and scale of clearing permitted.
The Association later backed government’s final package as it passed parliament – though the codes and regulations that power the reforms remain a work in progress.
Mr Clapham said while NSW Farmers had worked closely with government for the past two years, he feared continued regulatory creep through the consultation process meant landholders would bear the financial brunt of any conservation requirements.
Another member, who did not wish to be named, described the situation as farmers being asked to do the job of national park rangers, but without pay.
“In a nutshell, the general feeling of our native veg working group is, enough is enough,” Mr Clapham said.
“We have done our best to negotiate our way through the biodiversity reform and in the process the minimum percentage amount of set asides required using the codes was doubled from one to one, to one to two”.
“If government continues to restrict and compromise farmers agricultural production with environmental regulation for the benefit of the wider community, then government has to be prepared to pay for it, not farmers.”
Reforms ‘a true level playing field’
Primary Industry Minister Niall Blair said the reforms aimed to strike a triple-bottom-line balance for landholders across NSW.
He said this would be seen through additional and more flexible management and clearing options, including recognising existing native vegetation as land owner "equity" that can be cleared in exchange for areas set aside and managed for biodiversity.
Mr Blair also said there would also be new income streams for rural land owners - including the ability to use their land as environmental offsets under the planning system, or through the new $240 million private land conservation program, which would pay farmers to manage and promote strategic biodiversity assets on their land.
“(We’re) providing a true level playing field by ensuring farmers have access to clearing with on-site or off-site offset options equivalent to all other forms of land use and development under the planning system.”
Farmers baulk at proposed grassland regulations
Mr Clapham said the proposed regulation of grasslands also worried farmers, many of whom attended a workshop in the state’s south to see the office of Environment and Heritage’s vegetation mapping system in action.
Mr Clapham said the mood from at the trials was that the mapping was ‘inaccurate’.
“We now see a debacle in the grasslands methodology put forward by OEH whereby in the final analysis it looks as if approximately half of the entire Monaro grasslands landscape is proposed to be regulated and managed for conservation,” he said.
Mr Blair said government was aware of farmers concerns with the accuracy of the proposed blue-yellow regulatory maps and has “committed to delaying the activation of these maps until they have broader stakeholder support”.
“Consultation on the maps, led by the Office of Environment and Heritage, has commenced and is ongoing. The Government will not make any decision on the maps until consultation is complete and farmers are confident they will work.
“If there is agreement to activate the maps, there will then be an additional six-month land owner review period before the maps will take effect.”
Mr Blair said will not hold up the implementation of the new reforms, which will still commence on August 25.
The new LLS Land Management Code has been designed such that it can operate without the maps.