Green tape threatens vision of food superpower07, June 2012
Sign Up for free e-mail updates!
The Environment Minister's capitulation to green ideology is undermining the PM's vision.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard stunned farmers and fishermen with her recent speech on the Asian century in which she projected the vision that "Australia can be a great provider of reliable, high-quality food to meet Asia's growing needs" and forecast that Australia could become a regional food superpower.
While a welcome vision, the rhetoric is not matched by reality when one looks at the facts of food production in Australia and government-imposed policy obstacles.
One of those obstacles is the 'green tape' that Paul Howes says has strangled the forest industry and which he says will now be used on aquaculture, globally the fastest growing form of food production, but which has stagnant growth in Australia from overregulation. It is the same 'green tape' the Prime Minister said recently she wants to cut.
Recognising the national interest in forming coherent food production policy, former agriculture and fisheries minister Tony Burke announced in August 2010 the drafting of a national food plan. The Prime Minister re-announced the same initiative in a speech last month.
Given that initiative, it is ironic that Tony Burke, now minister for 'green tape', is overseeing a Murray Darling Basin plan that seeks to remove large amounts of water from the same food producers the Prime Minister hopes will feed Asia.
Burke is also responsible for the impending announcement of vast new marine parks all around Australia; just one of those is as big as the entire Murray Darling basin. The US green group the Pew Foundation, which has driven the marine park process, has demanded all fishing be banned in huge areas of Australian waters.
Australia already imports 70 per cent of the seafood it consumes, mostly from Asia; these proposals will nearly wipe out our ability to sustainably harvest seafood and push imports even higher. All of our seafood imports come from fisheries that are much moreheavily exploited and less well-managed.
By acquiescing to these demands, we simply transfer the environmental impacts of rich consumers to countries with lax regulation, the same as we do with forestry products in the hope this will salve our environmental conscience. Environmental hypocrisy writ large.
Incredibly, Australian waters already have 25 per cent of the global total of marine protected areas. These unwarranted proposals for even more marine parks in Australian waters will double the global area protected where they are needed least.
No Australian marine species is threatened with extinction from fishing, nor has any loss of marine biodiversity from commercial fishing ever been documented in Australian waters.
Recently Burke said Australia's environmental policy had lost its way. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the struggle to balance food production and sustain the environment.
These proposals for huge marine parks are hardly noticed by many in the community, but directly affect everyone who eats seafood. They fundamentally undermine our ability to produce food and are a microcosm of the imbalance we have created in trying to protect the environment and feed ourselves.
Anyone who thinks that doubling the world's largest marine park in Australian waters will enhance global marine biodiversity is living in fantasyland, just as anyone who thinks such proposals will not have adverse environmental outcomes on neighbouring fisheries is equally delusional.
Let's recap. The Prime Minister solemnly declares we need to cut 'green tape' and projects a vision for Australia to feed Asia. Her former agriculture and fisheries minister and ex-Wilderness Society campaigner Tony Burke, now wearing the cloak of environment minister, who launched an as-yet-unseen national food plan two years ago, is busy removing as much water from food producers as is politically possible.
At the same time, he is drafting plans to ban fishing in huge no-take zones at the behest of US green groups and make Australia almost completely dependent on poorly managed Asian fisheries.
These two policy actions alone shift the notion of being a food provider to Asia from uncertain to impossible, and further exports the environmental burden of food consumption from well-regulated Australian control to virtually no control overseas.
It is difficult to tell whether the hypocrisy of locking up our own natural resources while plundering those of other countries is perpetrated through political cunning for green electoral advantage or stupidity from not being able to comprehend the global environmental impacts.
Many nations in our region that supply us with food, seafood and timber products have appalling environmental standards. We on the other hand are strangling our food producers with over-burdensome 'green tape' like we have done with our timber producers, of which the net effect is perverse environmental outcomes through shifting our demand offshore.
If Julia Gillard's vision of Australia as a regional food superpower is to be realised, we need to realign the rhetoric of environmental values based on outdated ideology with the realities of imperfect, but well-managed Australian food production that minimises global environmental impact.
Max Rheese is executive director of the Australian Environment Foundation
Published in ABC The Drum June 7 2012
Sign Up for free e-mail updates!