Last Sunday, farmers in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia enacted National Chop Day, on which they began illegally removing trees on their property in defiance of what they claim are unconstitutional laws against land clearing.

 

 

A farmer defies vegetation management laws on National Chop Day.

 

They are calling it civil disobedience, and promising to cut down an ever-growing number of trees (one tree for 1 July, two trees for 2 July, and so on) until they receive compensation for the land which is protected by state land management laws. According to Steve Truman, farmers’ advocate and owner of livestock marketing firm Agmates, the Chop Day plan was not devised to make friends: it’s about alerting people to issues of land management and just compensation for the removal of their freehold land rights.

“We know that National Chop Day is offensive, particularly to people in the city and to people who believe there is bugger all scrub out there. But the facts are that here in QLD, 81% of the state is covered in scrub,” Truman told Crikey.

“The restrictions of the land management acts make it impossible for these farmers to make a living. They are squeezing the lifeblood out of the bush. You’ve only got to look at the woody weed infestation in Western NSW to see how the act is turning formerly productive land into totally unproductive land. It hasn’t served any sort of conservation purpose because it has killed off the bio-diversity of that country.”

And if it’s attention they wanted, it’s attention they are getting. The following are comments received by Agmates: 

You greedy monsters make me sick. We have precious little scrub left and if you had your way there would be none…I hope you get nothing. — Anonymous

I think that all members of Agmates would be better off chopping thier (sic) own heads off, what a stupid lot they are, do they also think the world is flat and the moon is made of cheese, and i not a city folk but a green farmer who nurtures his land not rapes it ! — ANON CHARMER

Phil Koperberg, the NSW Minister for Minister for Climate Change Environment and Water, told ABC radio yesterday that he preferred negotiation on these issues, a claim that Truman denies:

Despite what Koperberg says about an “my door is always open”, he and his office have “stone walled” any and all approaches. They have made to talk about the issues. Koperberg received a letter two weeks before the action started notifying of the action and offering to “talk” and avert it. The letter was never acknowledged or responded to.

Koperberg adds that his department will “be trying to identify cases where trees have been deliberately chopped down in contravention of the provisions and then we’ll decide what action if any should be taken.”

Queensland’s environment minister Craig Wallace concurs, telling Crikey his view mirrors that of the National Farmers’ Federation. The NFF says it “understands the frustration at the regulations” but “under no circumstances” supports the illegal removal of trees. “Farmers are increasingly being seen as part of the solution to environmental degradation, but this minority group is undermining that view.”

Meanwhile, Agmates are claiming that 6,000 trees were removed yesterday, with 8,000 to follow today.

Peter Fray

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