This week, a major report was released looking at the relationship between agriculture and the central tenant of federal environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999.
The review was led by Dr Wendy Craik AM, a former executive director of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and a high level adviser to Government.
For some time the NFF has pointed out the inadequacies of the EPBC Act in terms of its interaction with the farm sector and the many opportunities for its improvement.
Farmers manage more than 48 per cent of Australia’s landscape and everyday deliver environmental outcomes for all Australians.
In a survey carried out by the NFF, one quarter of respondents answered that they didn’t know what the EPBC Act was and 80 per cent felt they had an inadequate understanding of their obligations under the Act.
“The Act’s current one-size-fits-all approach does not recognise the inherently complex interactions between farming and the environment – including with water, soil, native grasses, native species and biodiversity in general,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.
Ms Simson said the NFF welcomed the recommendations made by Dr Craik.
“The report rightly raises concerns over the lack of awareness and understanding of the EPBC Act by farmers.
“A lack of awareness and understanding is likely to result in higher incidences of non-compliant activities in the agriculture sector and negatively impact the achievement of the Act’s objectives,” the report said.
For example, Ms Simson said farmers had long expressed frustration at not being given adequate notice that a species was being considered for the national threatened species list.
The review also recognised Australia’s state of biodiversity and that more needed to be done.
“Dr Craik has recommended that $1 billion be allocated over four years to establish a National Biodiversity Conservation Trust that adopts a market-based approach to incentivise farmers to protect environmental assets. This is something we support.”
The Government has already taken steps in this direction with the $30 million pilot Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Program, which aims to deliver payments to private land managers who improve the landscape or capture carbon on their property.
“The Act, as it stands, continues to fail to arrest the decline of biodiversity crucial to Australia’s food and fibre system. A market solution is a sensible mechanism to pursue,” Ms Simson said.