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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3504 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

around for decades and rejected for decades, but the desperation we are feeling about the drought is giving these plans a superficial appeal.

Fortunately, there are more knowledgeable people than Alan Jones who are now publicly saying that these plans are dumb. Of note is the formation of a group of scientists called the Wentworth Group. They recently issued a statement which in part says:

The problem of Australia's degrading landscapes is 200 years in the making. Australia cannot be drought-proofed. We need to learn to live with the landscape, not fight against it. We are using more natural resources than the current resource base can sustain. Reversing rivers is a simplistic reaction to a complex set of problems. We have sufficient knowledge now to set a new direction-this will involve a radical change in land use towards practices that can buffer the highly variable climate that is intrinsic to Australia.

The group has proposed a five-point plan for fundamental reform of water use in Australia which would cost some $20 billion over 10 years. The first area is water rights. We need to clarify the property rights of farmers for water and the environmental obligations associated with those rights. Secondly, there must be an immediate end to broad-scale land clearing of remnant native vegetation and assistance to rural communities with the adjustment that this will require.

Thirdly, taxation and price signals need to be changed to pay the full cost of production of food, fibre and water, including the hidden subsidies currently borne by the environment. This could mean pollution charges so that the cost of sediment and other contaminants is built into the price of food we buy at the supermarket. Fourthly, we need to restore environmental flows to stressed rivers so that aquatic ecosystems have enough water to survive. Fifthly, we need to find ways to pay farmers for environmental services such as clean water, fresh air and healthy soils that we as a society are expecting them to provide for all of us.

The Greens would want to debate further some of the proposals of the Wentworth Group, particularly what property rights and compensation farmers should be entitled to. Farmer organisations have called for full financial compensation where any new environmental laws and policies limit current farming practices.

While we would support targeted structural adjustment funding, we oppose any general requirement to compensate farmers for changes to environmental policies and regulations. The public should not be expected to compensate land-holders who because of environmental regulation are prevented from using resources in an unsustainable way and causing long-term damage. An analogy would be a claim for compensation by factory owners who as a result of regulation are no longer able to discharge effluent into rivers.

For the purposes of this motion, however, the main point I want to make is that the Wentworth Group's proposals are much more thoughtful and comprehensive than anything the Farmhand Foundation has come up with. While there may be a need for short-term assistance to those farmers who are most in need, much more thought needs to given to how we manage rural land in Australia.

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