In Tuesday’s item ‘Should farmers be compensated for not cutting down trees?’ you wrote:
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.
I had a fair bit to do with discussions at senior levels with many of the parties involved in Queensland land clearing in 2000 in government at a political, scientific and bureaucratic level and saw quite a few of the statistics, drafts of deals and legislation at the time.
I am not a supporter or engaged with either the conservatives or Labor and am not anti-farmer; I was involved for professional reasons. There can be no doubt that Queensland governments, national and then Labor, were utterly culpable for encouraging, subsidising and supporting mass clearing of Queensland up to the time the second land-clearing legislation that finally started to pull back the rates around 2003/4.
Until then, Queensland farmers were clearing 500,000 hectares a year and up to 700,000 hectares in some years which, if Queensland were a country, equal to the fifth-worst in the world. It was atrocious and appalling clearing rates that were screwing biodiversity, contributing to stuffed waterways and, in terms of ripping all vegetation out of the soil and moisture producers, contributing to drought. Farmers were clearing at industrial rates with dozers and chains (a technique invented by Joh), partly out of stupidity, partly because no one was going to tell them what to do with their land.
Some used to brag they thought that they could get enough to invest in a little block of apartments on the Gold Coast for holidays and rentals, or they would call it their ‘super fund’. Throughout all this and Beattie’s ‘my state is burning’ public carry-on, behind the scenes he was weak and unpersuaded of any need to properly rein in the farmers. This was for political reasons — he wanted to keep every one of those National Party seats his Government had managed to win. And he took this to environmental extremes that were astonishing — building a massive, expensive and unwanted dam in the Bundaberg region in order to keep one seat for example.
As to the discussions in 2000, whatever the public posturing was, and despite a bit of legislative action (that didn’t do much to rein in the excesses) by the Queensland government in 1999, it did everything possible behind the scenes to sabotage that deal. The feds had money and they were prepared to pay in the hundreds of millions to try to stop the frightening amount of land clearing.
But Queensland played all sorts of tricks at meetings and walked away publicly, blaming the feds.
This was much to the anguish of senior Queensland bureaucrats and scientists who were desperate to get the deal and do anything to stop the clearing. You can blame farmers for the unnecessary clearing, but don’t forget the regulator that subsidised, legally supported, financially encouraged and politically wedged in order to keep the clearing happening — all for utterly craven electoral purposes. The Queensland Government.
And Phil Dickie writes:
Here is a feature and news story from The Courier Mail on the issue at the time. The sheer volumes of permits for clearing stamped by regional primary industries state officials from around that time contain clearing numbers that were astronomical.
Farmers were putting in the permits to clear border to border in some cases, and too often to either do the clearing or to store up the pieces of paper for compensation. Despite what the then minister says in the article about loose talk in Canberra prompting a rush on permit applications, the fact is, his department were repeatedly, diligently and mechanically stamping applications worth millions of hectares of slashed and burnt forests.
Interestingly, the Queensland Government always claimed the Commonwealth didn’t negotiate properly, but Queensland wouldn’t accept promising, meaningful and active legislative controls in return for the money at the time.
And, as you will see, despite any public statements by the Queensland Government, they didn’t ever actually apply for the fund, despite knowing the money was earmarked for them if they could promise to stop the rate of clearing — a tactic dooming the talks at the time to failure.