The Guardian August 30, 2000


Queensland land clearance:
Conservatives duck "hot potato" issue

by Peter Mac

In the last few years vast areas of Australia have been stripped of natural 
vegetation and wildlife, and as a result Australia now faces the 
probability that it will fail drastically to meet greenhouse reduction 
targets set for Australia to achieve by 2010. The Howard Government has 
finally put forward a tentative scheme aimed at reducing the rate of 
destruction, but still faces opposition from Queensland National Party 
members, who have declared "total opposition to any limitations on land 
clearing on freehold title".

In 1996 the Howard Government persuaded world leaders to allow Australia to 
set lower  and therefore less effective  targets for reducing the 
amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto meeting allowed Australia an eight per cent increase by the year 
2010 (not a reduction, mind you) over the 1990 level. However, by 1998 
emissions were already 16.9 per cent higher than the 1990 level.

Since the Kyoto meeting, land clearing has been carried out by farming and 
pastoral interests which are intent on clearing valuable natural areas for 
agriculture or grazing before the State or Federal Government intervenes 
with a view to meeting the Kyoto targets.

This has been particularly evident in Queensland.

Not wishing to alienate the Liberal Party's Coalition partner, in 
particular the Queensland Nationals, the Prime Minister Howard has so far 
refrained from any action to discipline the farm owners.

The Government is now considering the introduction of a scheme which would 
financially compensate agricultural interests for doing what they should be 
doing anyway.

It is also proposing that the targets be achieved by means of introducing a 
"cap" on land clearing, and/or by the introduction of tradable land 
clearing permits.

Agribusiness groups such as the Agforce, Canegrowers, Cotton Australia and 
the Queensland Farmers' Federation have recently made it clear they would 
expect maximum compensation from the government (i.e. the taxpayer) for 
lowering the rate of clearance.

For their part, the Nationals believe that the Federal Government should 
leave all such matters to the State Government  and let them take the 
political flak.

The Prime Minister has now delegated responsibility for achieving a 
solution to a committee comprising Senator Robert Hill (who promoted the 
reduction of target levels at the Kyoto summit) and the Minister for 
Agriculture, Warren Truss.

Mr Truss, however, is a land holder himself, and has passed the baton of 
responsibility to the Minister for Forestry, Wilson "iron bar" Tuckey, who 
is well-known for his extremely conservative National Party views.

"Oh brave new world, that hath such people in it!" If the Australian 
Government's performance is anything to go by, the prospects for meeting 
the Kyoto targets  and saving the world from massive environmental damage 
and the loss of the low-lying countries  are getting slimmer by the 
minute.

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