On the 3rd of May, a group representing around 100 farmers from NSW and Queensland going by the august title The Commonwealth Property Protection Association, released a strident two-page advertisement in The Land newspaper: 

It included an invoice for $10.5 billion to the governments of Australia for lost property rights and carbon credits:

Click for a larger image  

A few weeks later, Radio National reporter Linda LoPresti contacted the group for her story covering an anticipated upsurge in cases of civil disobedience by farmers, after the internationally protected Gwydir wetlands in north-western New South Wales were allegedly bulldozed by a landowner.

LoPresti received an email from Peter Spencer from The Commonwealth Property Protection Association that took umbrage at the term “illegal land clearing”:

What do you know? How do you remove these lies and images from the minds of city folk? …However I will say if you and your pack of wolves do not like what you see about what farming is all about then you will not like what is about to erupt on July 1 2007.

The group is angered by, among other things, the federal government’s rhetoric claiming credit for meeting Australia’s Kyoto emissions targets, rhetoric like this from Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull on May 2:

…Australia is tracking within one percentage point of meeting its Kyoto target over the five years 2008 to 2012.

The Australian Government has invested more than $20 billion on measures to protect the environment, including more than $2 billion on climate change measures that by 2010 will result in emissions savings of 87 million tonnes each year from going into the atmosphere.

The farmers claim that their reduction in land clearing is responsible for Australia staying on track to meeting our Kyoto target, with no help from the federal, or state, governments.

The Commonwealth Property Protection Association also quotes the head of the Australia Institute Clive Hamilton in their advertisement:

Clive Hamilton’s NEW Book “Scorcher” the dirty politics of climate change …. quells the conspiracy theory — it is now a fact — small landowners and farmers have been offered on the altar at Kyoto as sacrificial lambs in delivering carbon credits to the world through the “Australia Clause” of the Kyoto Protocol.

Their arguments, albeit presented controversially, seem to stack up and they quote credible experts like the Climate Institute. But Clive Hamilton says that the ad misrepresents his personal views. “I don’t think there’s any ground for compensation for greenhouse reasons. All of the reductions in land clearing that have allowed the government to go close to Kyoto emissions targets happened before the Kyoto Conference in 1997…” Hamilton told Crikey.

The reduction in land clearing is a “byproduct of market forces and other legislation unrelated to greenhouse,” says Hamilton. “In the early 90s the bottom fell out of the beef and cattle market and farmers decided not to clear as much land. There has been some further reduction in land clearing as a result of legislation in Qld and NSW, but it wasn’t motivated by a desire to reduce greenhouse gasses. It was about biodiversity conservation and soil protection.”

So would the Australian government have this kind of anarchy on their hands if they’d ratified Kyoto?

“Under Kyoto there are rules governing this, and without them, we’re flying blind,” says Hamilton. “Kyoto imposes legally binding obligations on signatories to do a whole range of things. Had they signed on, the government would have had to legislate to cover emissions from all relevant sources, including land clearing.”

“One thing is for sure, the landowners wouldn’t have been compensated for past practices . But they may well have had a claim for compensation for anything after ratification and even for anything after 1997 …”

In 2000 the Queensland Government attempted to negotiate with the federal government to provide support for compensation to the tune of $100 million for the introduction of restrictions on land clearing for reduction of greenhouse gasses. The Howard government refused.

The Commonwealth Property Protection Association “do have one strong point — the federal government does not want to draw attention to the fact that its claims about meeting the Kyoto target are dishonest,” says Hamilton.

“The government claims we’re meeting the Kyoto target because of the policies that the federal government has enacted,” says Hamilton, “but in truth the target is being met because of reductions in land clearing which for the most part actually pre-date the government.”