Labor's green arm

The Weekly Times 12 August 2023

Labor’s green arm push to end broadacre land clearing, native logging

Labor’s largest internal lobby arm will heap pressure on the Albanese government to put an end to broadacre land clearing and native logging.

Jason Gregory

The Albanese government will face rank-and-file pressure at next week’s Labor national conference to end native forest logging and broadscale land clearing before the next federal election.

Existing and potential agricultural land could be sacrificed for carbon farming under a motion, proposed by the powerful Labor Environment Action Network, asking government to fund an expansion of publicly owned plantations to end native logging and satisfy the nation’s future timber needs.

LEAN’s plan to create a world-leading land-based carbon sink already has the support of 300 Labor branches on economic and environment grounds

However, National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said the claims of Labor’s largest internal lobby group were “an ill-informed attack on farmers”.

LEAN wants broadscale land clearing ended through “robust regulatory regimes” and “targeted incentives” in carbon and biodiversity markets.

A “national plantation estate” model would then attempt to balance plantation expansion and concurrent high-value land use through “long term leases with farmers and landholders”.

LEAN national co-convener Felicity Wade told The Weekly Times the question of where to site plantations to not compromise agricultural land, “while at the same time having enough water, good soil as well as access to markets”, was not straightforward.

“Yes, we have a challenge and land use decisions that have to be made sensibly and well. (But) we do have enough land to have both plantations, bushland and agriculture – if we do it right,” she said.

Ms Wade said LEAN wanted the federal government to “step up and hasten” the switch to managing natural capital and “a new commodity – carbon”.

She also conceded that “we need to make the economics stack up” for farmers.

A recent LEAN report said a ‘National Natural Capital Corporation’ would help farmers navigate carbon and biodiversity markets and “a unionised, locally expert workforce” would manage forests on public and private land.

Meanwhile, Ms Simson said Australian farmers were already operating under some of the most stringent regulatory frameworks in the world and clearing rates were falling year on year, while “vegetation regrowth vastly exceeds the clearing of primary forests.”

“Australian farmers are stewards of more than 70 per cent of Australia’s landscape and work every day to manage weeds and pests and improve the environment on their farms,” she said.

“That’s why we’ve long called on government to provide frameworks and markets that reward farmers for the positive work they do every day.”

Queensland and NSW land clearing data released last week found 1.5 million hectares of forest and woodland were destroyed in the past three years.

However, Ms Simson said “80 per cent of what is being cleared is repeat management of woody regrowth”.

While agreeing that clearing is slowing and some land is recovering, Ms Wade claimed “this is not a net gain situation” due to biodiversity loss.

The previous Morrison government found an additional 400,000 hectares of plantations was needed for current timber needs.

Meanwhile, 256 scientists released an open letter on Thursday supporting LEAN’s motion that said it would be “impossible” to meet mandated net-zero emission targets “without urgently halting the bulldozing of native forests and woodlands”.

Australia’s agriculture ministers last month agreed to a landmark national statement urging Australian farmers to cut emissions.

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