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Speech to Rural Press Club of Victoria in Bendigo



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Speech to Rural Press Club of Victoria in Bendigo- 19 April 2012 April 19, 2012 14:52

It was only 160 years ago that Bendigo was just a shepherd's hut and a chain of waterholes along a

flat. The owner of that hut was a shepherd known as Sailor Bill. He boasted so often of his fighting

prowess that he was nicknamed after the famous English fighter of the day, Bendigo the Boxer.

When gold was found in the surrounding flats the town became known as Bendigo.

I think it is fitting that I give a speech on regional development in a town named after a boxer. It is

fitting because we in regional Australia are going to have to fight to take full advantage of the

expanding opportunities that are present now, and will be even more so in the future.

We are going to have to fight because we are facing an organised opposition which is actively

against regional Australia getting ahead.

The Greens are a highly organised political group. They are particularly organised in trying to

impose a communal guilt on the development of our natural resources which underpin the

progression of post-settlement Australia.

This is the unbridgeable chasm between the Greens and regional Australia. The Greens will

continue as a political force despite the resignation of Bob Brown, but they will fail to connect

successfully with regional Australia. The Greens connect with those who park themselves in a

corner of the Manic Monkey Café in inner suburban Nirvanaville angrily bogged down in Finnegan’s

Wake.

The Greens are against irrigation; however, the town of Mildura, just northwest of here, would not

exist without it. The Greens are against fossil fuel powered electricity; however, vast amounts of

Victoria's manufacturing industry would not exist without the exploitation of brown coal. The Greens

are against all coal mining; however, the towns of Newcastle and Wollongong, and, indeed, almost

the entire Australian economy, would not exist without it. The Greens are not too flash on mining

altogether, however, the town of Bendigo itself would not exist without the exploitation of its gold

reserves.

Had the Greens been around in 1851 then this town would be a field of righteous trees not a town

of 90,000 people.

The whole of regional Australia is based on the exploitation of resources, the exploitation of water,

the exploitation of minerals and the exploitation of land. And the closer you are to the centre of town

the more exploited the environment is, interestingly this is where the “Greens” attract their strongest

vote.

The most precious reflection of a nation is the soil and the land, without which there is nothing.

A country is not the encapsulation of thought, colours or a species. A country is a line on a map to

encapsulate land. Land is the most precious resource, and everyone has an argument to say why

they should have a greater say over it.

Sometimes a country, such as in the southern Sudan at the moment, has a dispute and takes over

the land of another country. Sometimes it's a view of a political party that the essence of what was

once held by the landholder is to be transferred to the state. Sometimes this transfer of ownership is

done via the imposition of caveats on the unencumbered use of land which amounts to a regulatory

taking of that land.

If we want, we can create more buildings, roads and factories or find more processes to find gold.

But you cannot create more land, what is there is all there will ever be, that is it. For this reason it

has been understood, over the millennia, to be the greatest reflection of wealth, but the sleight of

hand, by both sides of government, has contrived mechanisms to take this asset from the so-called

“ignorant” and “destructive” landholders and transfer it to the noble, enlightened government.

The Australian people's unencumbered attachment to the land is the ultimate reflection of our

people's wealth, of our people’s freedom.

Every time there has been a moral cause, a reason is given to divest the individual of ownership

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and transfer it to the state. This clash between bureaucracy and the rights of ownership was ably

demonstrated in this part of the world at the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat.

The sympathy we showed for those small, independent miners seems to have been lost. A jury

acquitted Peter Lalor even though the Eureka rebellion led to perhaps 35 deaths, including the

deaths of 5 soldiers. However, over the past 100 years not much loyalty has been shown to

landholders and their rights as they have been taken piece by piece.

Where was the sympathy for farmers when their vegetation rights were stolen off them by

government? Or the sympathy to the farmer who has been held back by a plethora of green

tape. After rights have been taken off the farmer, such as coal, oil and gas, which happened as

recently in 1981 in New South Wales, have they been left in a better position to deal with issues

such as coal seam gas?

In most states I am deemed a criminal if I knock down trees on land that I own yet nobody bought

the asset from me, prior to it becoming an asset of the state.

The community may see it as their right to restrict the removal of trees by farmers but the

community has not been prepared to pay for that right. It wants to steal them. If I were to steal

property that I wanted but could not afford I would go to jail. I might have a very righteous reason to

steal a car, perhaps I want to take elderly people to bingo night, I would still go to jail.

But apparently governments can steal. And once they have stolen a right they then protect that

stolen right through new green regulation.

Today I am going to talk in more detail about why the Greens, and the environmental legislation that

they support, represents a threat to the future of regional Australia. I am going to do that by

presenting some specific examples of what is known as "green tape". It holds back the bush by

limiting the use of our water resources, particularly in northern Australia, and by taking away

property rights on what we can do with our land.

I will finish by discussing how the Greens have hijacked what environmental sustainability means

and why we must fight this if we wish to see regional Australia grow and prosper in the future.

Most of all, we will severely limit economic growth in regional Australia without the full protection of

property rights. Over the last 20 years the Greens have led a concerted attack on the property

rights of farmers. The end result is that landowners today are not masters of their domain or kings

of their castle.

As someone said to me the other day ‘give me my rights back.’

Why water means wealth

Last week I made my first trip to Kununurra to see the astounding Ord River scheme. Lake Argyle

holds the equivalent of over 20 times the size of Sydney Harbour all year around.

The Ord has had its problems and controversies over the years; however we now have a

government in Western Australia that finally has the courage and vision to build the Ord to a scale

that might at least give it a chance. At the moment only 15,000 hectares of land around the Ord is

irrigated. This is vastly too small to be efficient.

Just around my home town of St George there are 76,000 hectares of irrigation. That is supported

by a 101,000 ML dam, the Beardmore dam, although there are much larger private storages as

well. Last year those storages helped produce over $600 million of cotton, $200 million of grain and

then there are melons, onions, grapes, beef and kangaroo meat as well.

All produced by just around 5,000 people. If the rest of the nation were this productive, we would be

the richest nation on earth.

Lake Argyle is 100 times the size of Beardmore dam yet it only supports an irrigation area roughly

the same size as the government irrigation scheme in my area and vastly smaller than privately

developed farms around St George.

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Whatever you think of the past economic success of the Ord, there is no doubt about the

environmental benefits that can be achieved when you dam something.

Before the Ord was dammed it was a seasonal river, retreating to a series of disconnected pools in

the dry season. Now it flows at 45 cubic metres per second, all day every day. Lake Argyle is now

one of Australia's 64 internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands.

Some bureaucrats from the Federal Department of Environment, more familiar with the variable

rivers in Australia's south east, asked how often water is released from the Ord. The response

came back "every bloody day". It took the Ord Corporation 8 weeks to convince the bureaucrats

that this was actually the case.

This is only a minor example of the bureaucratic interference that has occurred in the attempt to

expand the Ord River scheme.

Because Lake Argyle is a Ramsar listed wetland, any plan to use its waters must be approved by

the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This meant that

environmental bureaucrats from Canberra had the final say on whether the project could go ahead.

The environmental legislation over an environment created by a man made structure which would

not have been created if today’s environmental legislation was in place.

Reportedly this process was drawn out and frustrating. Department officials asked the Ord

proponents to provide evidence that a road they were intending to build would not limit the migration

of finches. The reply came back, finches can fly! So we intend them to fly over the road, like every

other (invective) bird!

In the end, to get the project approved, the Ord had to agree to pay $1.5 million to fund shark

research in the Indian Ocean as an “environmental offset”. The shark research had nothing to do

with the Ord scheme; it was effectively just a tax on this project. A shark tax on the outback. Green

legislation is an emotion followed by a paradox with the goal being lead weight.

On the other side of the country, another dam project has been held up by environmental law for

too long.

The Nathan Dam, near Rockhampton in Queensland, was first approved in 1928. Nothing

happened for a long time until a group who wanted to expand cotton production in the Emerald

region proposed it again in the late 1990s.

The dam was approved under the EPBC Act by David Kemp in 2002. However, in a landmark court

decision, that approval was successfully challenged by Green activist groups in the courts.[1] The

problem was a chemical called Endosulfan used in cotton farming. The concern was not the impact

of the dam itself but that the chemicals used in cotton production might run off into the Great Barrier

Reef. For the first time the courts decided that the “indirect” impacts of a major project could also be

considered when deciding whether a project should be approved.

Thanks to GM crops, roundly fought by Green groups, Endosulfan is no longer used, but then the

Greens went in search of the next witch.

The dam has been resurrected in the last few years thanks to coal mining projects in the Surat

basin. About 200 to 300 litres of water is needed for every 1 tonne of coal mined. The proposed

880,000 megalitre Nathan dam has the potential to provide affordable and reliable water for these

projects.

Yet the dam is still to receive approval. The latest saga came in 2007, when quite appropriately, an

already snail-paced development was held up by the discovery of 850 Boggomoss snails. Tools

were downed until 2009 when 18,000 of the same snails were found elsewhere. The approval

process can now continue.

So it looks like it might take us over 10 years to approve one dam. What do you think most rational

people think when it takes 10 years for a country to approve a dam?

In Tasmania, the Meander dam took a year and a half to build but 10 years to approve.

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Is it any wonder that a major dam has not been built in Australia for over twenty years?

Environmental law does not preclude a dam being built, but the hurdles are so great that there is an

effective veto on any major dams in this country.

The only way to reverse this outcome is to put the political will back into decision makers by

sending a loud message that governments will have the courage to approve new dams.

Australia will clearly need new dams in the future. In 1980, Australian dams had the capacity to

store 4.5 megalitres per Australian; that capacity has now fallen to just over 3.5 megalitres. If no

new dams are built in the future, Australia's storage capacity will fall to 2.5 megalitres per person by

2050.

That is why the Coalition has established a Dams and Water Management task group, of which I

am the Deputy Chair. Andrew Robb, the chair of the task group and I have travelled to every state

and territory in the country. We will be releasing an interim report in the coming weeks.

What is clear from our travels is that there remains potential for the construction of new dams,

especially in northern Australia. More than 100 dam and water management proposals of various

types have already been suggested to the task group, with a combined total capacity in excess of

25,000 gigalitres. Some proposals will never happen, others at this stage are just ideas, but there

are some proposals which clearly have great potential.

While it is true that Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the planet, that is only part of the

story. We as a continent have the lowest available water per hectare in the world, but we have a

level of water per person three times the world average, higher than North America, Western

Europe and Asia.

More importantly, Australia uses less of its water than most other countries in the world and much

lower levels than those used by comparable developed countries. Australia currently uses just six

per cent of our available water compared to a world average of nine per cent.

If we increased our use to equal the world average, Australia could feed more than 100 million

people through our food production — even before accounting for any future increases in

agricultural productivity. The morality of feeding people is not an issue on the Green kaleidoscope

of values.

There is clearly scope to achieve this target, particularly in northern Australia where water use is

currently less intense. More than 60 per cent of water run-off occurs in three northern Australia

drainage basins; however, only 5 per cent of that run-off is currently put to use.

While there are challenges in developing the north they are too often highlighted in contrast to the

opportunities. The CSIRO has identified that there is over 5 million hectares of soils suitable for

agriculture in northern Australia. While nowhere near that amount will be irrigated, to put that

amount of land in context, the total amount of land under irrigation in Australia is only 2 million

hectares.

The north now has what for so long it has lacked; wealthy markets in Asia proximate to its

ports. The Asian middle class is a market that a prudent Australian government would be

developing. Our latest example of Labor’s Asian conscience was the live cattle debacle.

Our report will have more detail about the specific areas that the task group views as important for

development, but it is clear that the Gulf and the Kimberleys will be two key areas.

The simple fact is, if we want to increase our ability to grow food, to that of a size to support crucial

capital such as cotton gins, rice mills, abattoirs or peanut blanching plants, then we have to

continue to develop irrigation projects. Over 50 per cent of the profit from our agriculture comes

from irrigation and that produce comes from just half a per cent of the total land area used for

agriculture.

But that development will only occur if we strongly protect the property rights of those who might

consider moving to the north to grow our food production.

Development can only come from protection of property rights

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We cannot take our record as one of the most efficient and productive growers of food for granted.

From the 1970s to the early part of the 21st century, productivity in agriculture grew at just under 3

per cent per year. This was the fastest productivity growth in any sector, except for

telecommunications. Every government talks about productivity and agriculture delivered it.

However, over the last decade productivity growth in agriculture has fallen to 1 per cent per year.

We compete on global markets, if we don't improve this performance, ultimately we will threaten our

ability to compete in these markets.

Now many argue that the productivity slowdown should be treated with increased R&D spending. I

agree that R&D spending is very important, but given our budget situation, left by Labor, there will

be a limit to how much additional support we can provide.

Moreover, there is no point developing new forms of genetics if farmers are not allowed to change

their cropping practices. There is no point developing new strains of crops for tropical areas if we

are not allowed to touch the water resources of the north. There is no point for a farmer to invest in

a new technique if he doesn't have proper security over his land and the certainty that he can at

least have a shot at making a return on investing in innovation.

Without property rights there is a massive restriction on innovation. North Korea, or the Cultural

Revolution in China, or Stalinist Russia, are what happens when the state knows best and owns

and directs all. Starvation with environmental devastation.

We should be vigilant protectors and fighters for property rights because that is fair. That is the right

thing to do. Small business is the vessel of freedom of the individual and property rights is the

vessel of small business.

We should also protect property rights because it is good economic policy. No one will invest in

their land if they do not have proper rights over it. No one will install a centre pivot irrigation system

if they have to plant thousands of trees elsewhere for an environmental offset. No one will buy a

farming property if with the stroke of a pen, government officials can take away your right to farm

that property.

But all of these things are happening now. While the recent fall in productivity in the agriculture

sector is mainly due to the drought, we won't recover from this slump if we persist with the

environmental and land use laws that we currently have.

In northern New South Wales, a certified organic farmer of macadamia nuts is facing ruin because

of the arbitrary decisions of a local government. In New South Wales local governments have the

ability to declare "local environmental plans" under the Environment Planning and Assessment Act

1979. These plans allow local governments to determine what can and can't happen on someone's

property through a simple council decision.

This farmer's local council decided to rezone half of his property to what is known as E2. As

described on the Environmental Defender’s Office website, the E2 zone is “for areas outside the

national parks and nature reserves and provides the highest level of protection for high

conservation value lands without actually locking them up in the public reserve system.” The EDO

encourages its activists to “Look to see that council does not add any developments that would

undermine the protection afforded to land zoned E2.”[2]

This macadamia farmer’s council, dominated by Green councilors, has told him that he can’t

construct buildings or fences on the part of his land that has been designated E2. He can't change

the farming he currently performs. He can't change his crops. Basically he is told he can't do

anything. Don't innovate, don't try to get better, just stand still, but pay your rates, public liability

insurance and the bank.

Not surprisingly, this farmer recently had a valuation performed which showed that the

reclassification of his land has halved the value of his land. No compensation, no recourse

whatsoever. A local council can effectively steal half of someone's asset and there doesn't appear

to be anything he can do about it. Environmental fear and loathing campaigns, with prognostication

of imminent demise, have clouded the self-evident loss of individual liberty and economic reality.

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This is not an isolated example, 30 per cent of the Kyogle Shire is covered by an E2 designation in

its draft local environment plans.

This is not what our side of politics believes in. We believe in the property rights of the individual. If

you want to buy something that I own, well then offer me a price. If you can't afford it, go away.

But this is just one story of how the biggest regulatory threat to our prosperity is overzealous red

tape in the bush. There are many other stories as well.

A caravan park owner just south of Foster owned 160 acres of rural land which adjoined his

caravan park. Next to his land was a National Park.

The caravan park owner applied to rezone 5 of his 160 acres of rural land to expand his caravan

park. He was told that you can do that providing you donate the remaining 155 acres to the National

Park. Oh, and before you transfer it, return the land to the state of a National Park.

It wasn't clear if this meant he had to let wild pigs roam free and do what he could to create a

serious fire hazard!

But seriously, how is this different from blackmail? It is in effect, state sanctioned corruption. We will

stamp your form if you hand over 155 acres of land to the state?

There was another example in Victoria. A road was being built and a number of dead trees had to

be removed. The environmental restrictions meant that instead of simply removing the dead trees,

they had to be relocated to another area. They were already dead but had to be replanted.

The classic example in Victoria is the high cattle country, which my family, and Senator Bridget

McKenzie’s family used to own leases in. The whole saga is Orwellian: “all cloven foot animals are

equal … but some are more equal than others.” There are 20,000 sambar deer in the high country,

but apparently adding 400 cattle would be an environmental catastrophe. See there are righteous

dogs, righteous deer and righteous wild pigs, but cattle are the personification of methane-belching

evil.

In my state of Queensland there is not a more important environmental asset than the Great Barrier

Reef. Sugar farmers right up the coast have massively changed their operations to ensure that

runoff from their properties does not flow into the reef. This was the right thing to do.

However, it wasn't good enough for the Queensland Labor government. They decided that we

needed to impose more paperwork and bureaucracy on those who were doing the right thing.

Despite a study showing that 96 per cent of farmers were doing the right thing, in terms of designing

their property so that runoff did not harm the reef, the Queensland Labor government went ahead

anyway. Now every sugar cane farmer has to test wind conditions and fill out paper work every time

they apply chemicals.

Instead of punishing those that do the wrong thing, we just punish everyone with more bureaucracy

and more red tape. I used to joke that if regulations on the Great Barrier Reef got out of control they

will grow like cancer half the way to Charters Towers. It is now not a joke but reality.

Then there are the simply wasteful examples of environmental spending. The government bought

Toorale station near Bourke for $23.75 million so that they could deliver, according to Penny Wong,

80 billion litres down the river in flood years.

In 2010-11, a flood year by any record, the government's Toorale entitlements delivered, not 80, but

just 7.6 billion litres.

The reason is because the government has not removed the ring tanks or the other irrigation

infrastructure that holds the water back at Toorale. The reason they haven't done that? Because an

environmental study the government commissioned AFTER the purchase found that a new ecology

had grown in the ring tanks at Toorale and that this man made environment now needed protection,

and the ring tanks could not be removed.

Meanwhile the water that could be used for irrigation just sits there, after the government borrowed

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$24 million from overseas to put out of production 10 per cent of Bourke's economy and 4 per cent

of the Shire's rates for no discernible environmental benefit.

It is no wonder I permanently feel in a Franz Kafka novel when I deal with this government's water

policies.

The Murray-Darling Basin

Toorale station is in the Murray-Darling and that brings me to a topic that I would like to say a few

words about before returning to my main topic today.

The government's failure in this area to get an outcome has been a direct consequence of their

failure to take farmers and communities with them.

In saying that I am happy to sit down with Tony Burke to try to come up with a better plan than we

already have.

I will keep those detailed discussions between ourselves but from the Opposition's perspective

these are the key things we need to see.

1. We won't support a plan that pulls the economic or social rug from under a town. We know that

the government's current work on this issue is inadequate. We need to see a more realistic

analysis.

2. We need more information on exactly how the water will be recovered. In particular, we need

solid guarantees that a minimum amount of the water will come from infrastructure or environmental

works and measures not buybacks. More promises, given the record of this government, won't cut

it.

3. The government must come clean on what its plans are for environmental watering. This has to

be about real environmental outcomes, not a number.

4. As my colleague Simon Birmingham outlined in a speech yesterday, we have to allow locals to

have more of a say in exactly how the water is returned. This was the foundation of the successful

Living Murray Initiative, a model that was recommended for adoption by the House of

Representatives review last year. A recommendation the government has ignored.

5. The plan must be legally robust. During the Senate's inquiry into the Water Act last year I

received an in camera briefing from Mike Taylor, former head of the MDBA, on the government's

legal advice that it won't release. I remain deeply sceptical about the current Act's resistance to

legal challenge.

A good plan is more important than an Act.

What to do about the environment

469 is a number that Christine Milne should pay attention to. It's the number of votes that the

Greens party candidate in the state seat that I live in, Warrego, got at the Queensland election

about a month ago. 469 votes out of 24,000. The Greens have a long way to go in my neck of the

woods.

People are sick of the Greens because they are sick of being lectured to about the environment as

if they have no right of reply. Their jobs don't matter, their livelihoods don't matter, only the

environment matters. They are sick of being lied to about “green jobs”. Where are these “green

jobs”? Playing golf with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy?

Too often now the word 'environment' is used as some omnipotent being that takes away your right

to question. How dare you question the environment? How dare anything be traded off in sake of

the environment?

This is a fundamental and deep change in how we deal with the environment.

The National Water Initiative, which was put in place by John Anderson in 2004, made explicit

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reference to the need to 'trade off' environmental factors in favour of economic and social ones

some times.

By the time we got the Water Act though there is no mention of a trade off. Instead, international

environmental agreements "must be implemented" and although economic, social and

environmental factors must be optimised this only occurs after the environmental agreements are

given effect to.

This philosophy prevails because a false notion has gained hold that our fathers and grandfathers

were environmental vandals and we must protect against that from ever happening again. Those

evil people who came out and lived through the privations of going without so we can have the

standard of living we have today.

What hope would Lachlan Macquarie of had if he had to negotiate with Christine Milne. We would

be all back in Europe, maybe that is the Greens’ plan.

In the Territory last week I heard stories that the government does not want to develop its rivers

because it doesn't want a Murray-Darling in the north. This is absurd. The water resource I was at

has half the flow of the Murray and currently only 1 per cent is used.

The truth is more in between. Our ancestors weren't vandals, but they were not perfect either.

Environmental mistakes were made but, by and large, we have a community that corrects for those

errors over time.

When salinity became an issue we dealt with it. When the Great Barrier Reef was suffering we

restricted pesticide use and when the Murray-Darling was clearly over allocated we capped use and

are now returning water to the environment. Almost 2000 gigalitres at last count.

Environmental policy in Australia is a bit like Niall Ferguson's view of the British Empire. It

committed many mistakes but whenever it did there was a moral reaction in Britain which helped it

correct course.

The problem is the Greens don't want the course to be corrected. They want it to be stopped.

For this reason, they are never satisfied and always want more environmental protections which will

shut down more areas and cost more people their jobs. By the way, back in 2003 the CSIRO

argued that we needed to return 1500 gigalitres from the Murray to the environment. Now we are

heading towards over 3500 gigalitres when you include pre-2009 amounts. Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wants 7600 gigalitres which means economic oblivion from the apparently economically

concerned greens.

So that's our challenge to fight for regional Australia, to fight for our right to use the land that we

paid for and that we own. To understand that the exploitation of economic resources is something

that is essential, not deemed immoral, because it underpins all of our wealth.

So to the rural press here as well, you have a role to play here. You have reported on many of the

absurd examples of over regulation that I have given here today. You have a crucial role of

highlighting these absurdities and making the case for change.

The time has come for us to starting cutting back the green tape lantana that is choking regional

Australia. Green tape has become a weed that starves economic activity and takes away our basic

property rights.

For the future of regional Australia that has got to change.

For me environmentalism is spraying the blackberries, shooting the rabbits, feral cats and pigs;

throwing the carp high up the bank; having that favourite part of wilderness on the place that has

been there before me, my family, white settlement, aboriginal Australia.

I do not need a PhD from the University of Google to usurp my connection, belittle my views and

steal my rights bought and paid for over generations.

If you love it, live with me in it. If you don’t leave me alone.

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