Lots of News & views this week. We plan to put out several press
releases on property rights during the election campaign. We are also
thinking about the idea of asking organisations such as lobby groups,
landcare groups, shire councils, social welfare groups etc to send a letter /
email demanding a property rights bill. Perhaps  this could be started
immediately after the election. Then any pressure for property rights from
the election can continue to build.
If you have any suggestions / criticisms about this idea, let us know.

(3) More criticism of landcare
(4) Ex Landcare member comments
(5) Conservation incentives for farmers flagged
(6) Garrett comments on water and trees and compensation
(7) NFF to push Property rights.
(8) Qld Tree maps wrong
(9) Greenhouse gases escape from dams
(10) Tas Rock Lobster Guarantees on access rights?
(11) Discussion - Jock Douglas questions Property Rights moves
(12) A  reply from Leon Ashby
(13) Mick Keogh comments
(14) Ian Mott Comments
(15) Jane Ashby addresses closed woodlands and biodiversity questions

From Land & Water News

The majority of Australian States and Territories have agreed to adopt
biodiversity conservation targets aimed at preserving the habitat for
and endangered species.
The release of the National Objectives and Targets for Biodiversity
2001-2005 document completed the set of three policy documents which underpin
the national biodiversity conservation strategy.
The other two documents comprise the Review of the National Strategy for
Australia's Biological Diversity and the Biodiversity Conservation Research -
Australia's Priorities.
The documents were produced as part of the first five-year review of the
Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity which was
approved by  Federal, State and Territory Governments in 1996.
While the review did find positive progress towards the goals of the
Strategy, it
also found that a number of the objectives had not been met, in particular
native vegetation clearing controls were not working effectively.
The conservation targets to be achieved between 2001 and 2005 focus on native
vegetation, freshwater ecosystems, marine and estuarine ecosystems, invasive
species, dry land salinity, grazing. climate change, indigenous knowledge,
to information and institutional reform.
Copies of the documents are available from Environment Australia on 1800 803
772 or on the website at
here to view it


The NSW Government's Healthy Rivers Commission has released a draft paper
for its independent public inquiry into coastal lakes
Healthy Rivers Commissioner, Dr Peter Crawford, said the draft
, focused on the need for public authorities to make informed decisions about
lakes that balance ecological, social and economic needs.
Written submissions will be received until Friday 2 November 2001. The draft
paper can be downloaded at  www.hrc.nsw.gov.au
click here to view it

From abc radio
(3) More criticism of landcare
Governments are being urged to change the approach to environmental funding
or risk wasting billions of dollars on projects that do nothing to solve the
country's problems.

But Landcare is not finished says Vic Landcare Committee

In reponse, where is landcare heading in the very state in which it began?
With two discussion papers out, complete with submissions, some would say
there is still not a clear direction being shown by the state review of
Landcare. Despite the doubters ...head of the review committee, Geoff Howard
says landcare is NOT an experiment that has had it's day, Howard believes Dr
David Pannell's comments are very different to those of the committee. He
does, however, accept that money must be spent in the communities best
interest in most cases. The state government is expected to make a final
decison on the direction of landcare early next year.
(4) Ex Landcare member comments

From Alan McKensie, Bulla Vic


I read your letter in our local paper in Sunbury ,Victoria . I would like to
know more about your group and where they are based.
I have been a member of land care and have chosen not to rejoin because of
the lack of administration support being offered by the government amongst a
lot of other issues. I have openly stated at public meetings that land care
is doomed.
Alex Arbenouf VFF accused me of trying ( single handedly) to bring the land
care movement in Australia down. This was during my attempts to move a no
confidence motion in the minister for NRE (in the Kennett Govt) from the
floor of a land care meeting - I finally succeeded ( the no confidence motion)

Please send me some information as I to believe the effectiveness of land
care is almost Zero    

Alan McKenzie

Bulla Vic

* Hi Alan, I have noticed Landcare is very different from group to group. In
some places it is purely city based people doing a bit of landscaping. In
other places it is now a Landholders community action group fighting against
environmental restrictions that will cause more ecological damage. I also
know of many groups in limbo because of the reasons you state surrounding NHT
funding guidelines and Govt policy seeking to control landholders rather than
encourage local people  to solve local issues. As well as the decision making
process losing it`s way, many believe there are too many funded positions
that suck up the dollars before anything is done on the ground. Our aim is to
bring a landholder perspective to all the contentious issues affecting land
and resource management, both the problems and the solutions. Your input is
very welcome -  Leon

(5) Conservation incentives for farmers flagged

 The House of Representatives Environment Committee has recommended the job
of tackling land and water degradation could be made a lot cheaper, if
farmers were given more direct financial assistance. The report follows an
earlier inquiry which recommended an environment levy be introduced, to help
raise funds for repair work.
(6) Garrett comments on water and trees and compensation

President of the ACF, Peter Garrett  says irrigators have had a good run and
its time the environment got a second glance. He also believes its time
farmers were compensated in some way to put a stop to land clearing that is
continuing at unacceptable levels.

* We ask. What is the definition of an acceptable level ?
Would the level of woodland  cover that was around in 1788 be acceptable? or
Would it be acceptable to keep the native vegetation biomass at the level it
is now?
In either case these two definitions would allow an INCREASE in tree pulling
rates in Qld because the vegetation biomass on grazed woodlands increases at
an av 922 kg/ha  per yr over 60 million ha. - approx 22 million tons above
the level of vegetation removal.

(7) NFF to push Property rights.

President, Ian Donges, says the NFF's number one priority is to secure
compensation for any erosion of property rights under environmental laws.

(8) Qld Tree maps wrong

Concerns have been raised about the accuracy of vegetation maps used to
assess tree clearing permits under the Qld Vegetation Management Act.
Broadacre lobby group AgForce says there are cases from across the state,
where what's on the ground does not match up with what's on the map. DNR is
prepared to make ammendments if such inaccuracies can be proven. The problem
is there is a backlog of corrections to be made.


(9) Greenhouse gases escape from dams

Australia could help meet its targets set out under the Kyoto protocol ... if
it looked more towards dams, reservoirs and hydro electricity schemes, as
emitters of greenhouse gases. These large water bodies have been identified
as significant sources of methane and carbon dioxide, due to rotting
vegetation and algae.
In the Murray Darling Basin, Dartmouth Dam alone emits ten thousand tonnes of
greenhouse gas each year.
And believe it or not, that's equal to the amount of emissions produced by
seventy thousand sheep.

* We question the idea that preventing vegetation from getting into dams will
reduce greenhouse gases, as vegetation will eventually rot whether it is in
the water or on the ground

 (10) Tas Rock Lobster Guarantees on access rights?

Rock Lobster fisherman are calling for a strengthening of access rights.
Access or property rights is a way of protecting the industry, by offering
fisherman some guarantee that their 300 million dollars in rock lobster quota
plus infastructure investments, like vessels, won't be jepardised by any
unforseen state government changes to the fishery. One proposal is the
introduction of a deed of agreement between the industry and authorities.


Now for an important debate
This is from Jock Douglas (Qld)

(11) Discussion - Property Rights moves questioned

Leon and all

Consider well before you jump! (crocodiles may be lurking in the water)

Defining and entrenching property rights appears high on current agendas so
may I sound a note of caution with the following explanation:

"Property rights", the "right to farm" and similar instruments were
investigated by Queensland producer organisations during the mid to late
1980's and I had some involvement. The problem we uncovered then, was that in
establishing rights, all 'ownership' authority and farming activities had to
be defined, classified and listed. Doing that leaves primary producers
exposed on at least two fronts:

1) Having publicly detailed exactly what you have and what you do with it you
are providing a rich information source for those who have different views
about what you have and how you manage it.
With the detail defined for them, those with the power may continually make
changes to currently accepted 'rights'.

2) Defining what you do can lock you in to what we know now and limit future
uses and practices which may emerge. Flexibility to adapt management and to
adopt new technology could be lost.

But there is more than this. Think of the landholder mindset which this might
generate.  The possible consequence of a 'property rights' approach is
disturbing in the negativity it produces. This mindset would have landholders
constantly having to justify their rights and actions (because they have
listed all of these). The operational framework becomes adversarial and
antagonistic. It would lead to landholders 'gilding the lily' about resource
problems instead of identifying on-farm resource "hot-spots', acknowledging
problems and seeking solutions.  Wouldn't it be better to go for on-farm
resource management systems based on continuous improvement and an inclusive,
supportive framework for that?

Regards to all
Jock (former Qld Landcare chairman)

(12) A  Reply From Leon Ashby

G`day Jock,
                  You comments are much appreciated, and these considerations
have been thought about previously but a more public discussion is welcome
and should never be shirked. So, I will play Devil`s Advocate to what you
have said and we can see if it helps everyone have a clearer view.

You mentioned the potential for determining property rights and getting into
a more dangerous position (crocs in the water)

In the 80`s many Landholders would have agreed with not doing anything about
property rights etc, but with a substantial number of landholders having lost
certain managerial rights including myself (e.g. burning, fencing,
waterspreading and treepulling) on parts of my property in the last 18
months. (And these are all tools that can improve the environment if used
properly) The issue for those of us in this position is how to deal with the
croc that is now biting you and the 3 or 4 others coming out of the water
behind him.
Our immediate issues make any potential problems you mentioned look

(2) You state "The problem we uncovered  (In the 80`s) was that in
establishing rights, all 'ownership' authority and farming activities had to
be defined, classified and listed."

If we tackle "right to farm" issues, that may be the case, but  I believe
there are several ways to tackle property rights and the situation of
defining everything does not need to be the case.

From a few discussions with various people, this is my understanding.

What happens if we do not have clearer property rights legislation

* If we do not improve legislation on property rights, many rights will
probably become defined (very gradually) in time as long as a justice system

What will probably happen is  5 - 20 years after each injustice occurs, when
enough people (with enough money) are injustly affected, they will mount a
joint court case which will claw back some of their previously held rights.

This process could then slowly continue across a range of legislation but in
the meantime many people will go through heartache, stress, financial loss,
opportunity loss, etc etc until that removed property right is determined and
won back or compensated. In some cases where the numbers of people affected
is small, they will never get justice.

Alternative Number 1

You have mentioned the idea of defining every farming right, classifying this
and determining that etc as the way we would go, which I agree could have
whiskers on it. The advantage of doing it this way is we could get "right to
farm" issues sorted out as well.
But for property rights that is not our only option.

Alternative Number 2

The approach I believe could work well is by setting up a mechanism or
which then unwinds itself in fairly rapid time. It`s a bit similar to how job
search or pension payments work. It`s how native title was supposed to work.
And it (hopefully) works like this.

The community (Federal Govt) states (via legislation) the justice principles
that property rights will be based upon.

A framework of administration offices and appeal processes are also set up
(similar to native title, job search etc) and landholders have a system to
then work through to begin to get justice.

The Govt(s) also put some funds into the kitty to get the process working and
as cases are dealt with, each government can then either amend various
offending legislation / regulations and / or arrange a compensation option to
the landholder.

Landholders who have a grievance then apply for a determination of their
rights and a fair compensation arrangement.
Each determination then allows for other landholders similarly affected to be
granted a fair compensation arrangement also.

In time each government will have to consider the issue of property rights
and potential just terms compensation options as part of each legislating
debate, and I expect injustices will become fewer over time.

This process does not define rights so much as it defines injustices.

But what about defining anything else?

In my view the only time there is a need to define anything is when there is
an injustice occurring . The situation with biodiversity duty of care is one
such case.

I see defining biodiversity duty of care is important for two reasons

(1) Determining where the community / landholder responsibility dividing line
is as far as conservation of biodiversity goes during the normal running of a
property. (e.g.retention rates on grazing / cropping land)

(2) Determining what restrictions will be on a property that has a
biodiversity conservation plan on it. (e.g. Desert Uplands bioregional
conservation strategy)

In both these situations I see landholders being bluffed into conservation
for the public good in the name of duty of care. In other words landholders
will be conserving biodiversity because they have been told the ecosystems
will collapse if they do not, but in reality the ecosystems adapt to the
landuse if good soil carbon levels remain. (plenty of plants grow and a good
proportion  decomposes back into the soil)
Therefore biodiversity conservation (which just happens to only be for native
species) should be defined and proclaimed as "generally public good

Finally you have said "Wouldn't it be better to go for on-farm resource
management systems based on continuous improvement and an inclusive,
supportive framework for that?"
 I totally agree with that idea as well as a process of upholding just terms
/ property rights. Ultimately I believe both are important. I cannot see how
one can replace the other in the current political climate.

Property rights (in my view) is not about forming a negative mindset so
landholders can  
tell the world to rack off and we (landholders) can ignore improving the
It is a necessary means of security so landholders do not have to fear
discussing environmental issues. For example why would any landholder bring
up an environmental concern if it means he could cop a restrictive regulation
that takes away some of his management options injustly.

Just terms / property rights is a landholders social security safety net for
when either laws go too far or the goal posts about landuse / management
change. - Leon
 In the interests of open debate, a few others were also asked for comments.  

(13) Mick Keogh`s comments


I agree pretty much with your comments. There are two ways to define
rights(of any sort). One is to explicitly state all the rights (examples
include the US Bill of Rights or the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights) and the other is to explicitly state their limits (or to state
what they are not) - which is more like the Australian/UK Common law
approach, which essentially states that rights all of us have in a whole
range of areas are everything EXCEPT the right to do anything that
causes harm to others or their property.

If we apply this to the property rights of landholders, there are two
approaches. The first, which is what Jock is alluding to, is to try to
explicitly spell out every conceivable right that an owner of farm land
has. These may include the right to cultivate, to introduce new species
of vegetation, to graze livestock, to construct earthworks, to profit,
to bring visitors to the land, to exclude others, etc. etc. Jock is
absolutely correct in observing that if we take this approach, we are
sure to miss something out in our list, and as technology changes we are
also likely to find we want to do something in the futrure that isn't on
the list.

The second approach avoids this problem, and is one that has been
utilised in 23 US States. It basically sets a limit on the impact that
public-good regulations can have on farmland before compensation is
automatically triggered. In essence, it says that a property-owner has
all the conceivable rights (now or in the future) possible related to
land, except the right to harm others and their property, and any action
by Government that takes away more than 10% of the value of those rights
to achieve a benefit for the entire community automatically triggers
compensation (in exactly the same way as the "Just terms" provision of
the Constitution operates when the Commonwealth takes away someones
title to land.

Using this second approach its not necessary to explicitly define the
all the rights that are associated with ownership of a piece of land.
All that is required is to have a law which says if something Government
does to benefit the public has an impact on those rights (measured by
value) then this triggers compensation. This solves three problems - (1)
it stops the gradual and progressive erosion of the rights of
landholders that you alluded to, (2) it avoids the problem of 'missing'
some rights on a list, and (3) it also means that environmental
regulations have a beneficiary-pays discipline imposed on them -
something every other action by Government usually has.

To put it simply, its a bit like describing how much water is in a
bucket. If we define property rights by describing how much water
(rights) is in the bucket, then we don't have the opportunity to add
more water to the bucket later (eg as a result of technological change),
or to adjust it if we find there is actually more water than we thought.
However, if we define property rights by saying that, however much water
is in the bucket, Governments can't take any water without paying
compensation, then we avoid all those problems.

But in addition, if the landholder finds something in his bucket that is
valuable for everyone else (like a threatened species) then the
landholder is much more likely to be prepared to tell everyone and to
look after it  - secure in the knowledge that if the Government needs to
remove some of the water to protect what has been found, he will be
compensated !

I hope this helps somewhat !
 Mick Keogh (NSW Farmers)

(14) Ian Mott`s reply

I agree, Leon,
1980 was not the time for definition because rights were not under threat.
It can't get much more adversarial and antagonistic than at present.
We will never get just compensation if it is shown that they can take them
for free.
If we don't define our rights, broadly, they will define them for us,
And foremost amongst the rights we must have is the right to adjust our use
according to changing markets, technology and circumstances as all other
citizens can do.
This is not an either or choice as Jock suggests. The obligation of all
heads of households is the same as the fiduciary obligations of Directors
and Investment Managers, ie to first secure the capital base and then to
produce income, minimise costs, avoid risks and expand that capital base in
a manner that is consistent with community expectations.
It is the enforced departures from community norms that we are protesting
We are about to do a workshop in Miriamvale that defines the past and
present uses and then outlines a decision matrix that outlines as many
possible future options as we can to minimise the adverse impact of
codification and extend the scope of any compensation.
Will keep you posted.
Ian Mott

*Any other views?
(15) Jane Ashby addresses closed woodlands and biodiversity questions

This is Jane`s reply to Jan Oliver`s request (WPSQ) for opinions on woodland
and biodiversity management.

Hello Jan,
               Thanks for asking the network such challenging questions.
You asked:

What do we do about thinning in thickened scrub (either acacia,
including gidgee, and eucalypt)?
Are there methods of opening some up without affecting the biodiversity
of the scrub? Should landholders leave thickened scrub alone? What if it
is remnant (it then needs  permit to clear)?
There seem to be a lot of conflicting views around and I would love to
hear what your readers say on this. Then we can present some viewpoints
to the committees.

To add to your questions above Jan, I think we also need to ask "What will
happen when  'protected' areas start to thicken in the future?" Thickening
isn't something that happened much before settlement. It now continues to
happen all the time unless it is continually kept in check with fire, tree
ploughing and/or perhaps (this idea is new in the more extensive areas)
intensive cattle grazing and trampling. In protected areas most of these
things (fire, tree pulling, ploughing etc) will be prohibited or restricted
so what will prevent protected areas becoming more and more densely covered
with trees?

In some places tree thickening may not be a problem for biodiversity, in fact
it may be very good for it in some areas, particularly the less "brittle"
climates. (By less brittle I mean humid, regular rainfall environments where
plant material rots and cycles back to the soil easily and there is either
enough moisture to sustain both grasses and trees or the leaf litter from
trees stays laying on the ground rotting down and protecting the soil.)

In some areas though  (erratic rainfall, low humidity areas like our property
Barcoorah ) there is the likelihood that as trees thicken there will be less
moisture left for grasses under the trees, grasses will die out leaving the
soil bare, (wind and water from erratic intense storms washes away leaf
litter) the bare soil will become capped and hard. Less water will penetrate
and more run off down creeks causing erosion. The soil will hold less
moisture and eventually some of the trees will even die of thirst. It may be
tempting to think that therefore, with less trees the grasses will restablish
protecting the soil and the whole cycle will start again but in this
environment this does not happen. With-out some soil disturbance grasses
can't get a start again in the hard degraded soil surface. This problem is
the main reason why people in our area pull trees in the first place - to
repair the soil surface - to get grasses growing again to protect it from
erosion (at the same time providing better food for stock of course).

So in our type of area allowing trees to thicken too far is likely to cause a
decline in biodiversity in the long run. It is logical that land with a
healthy mix of grasses, shrubs and trees will support a wider range of plants
and animals, than bare ground crowded with trees and the resulting erosion.
you feel that any of the things I have said above has no evidence to support
it please challenge me on it.

To answer your questions specifically
What do we do about thinning in thickened scrub

Thinning might work in some situations if the grass cover has not yet
declined too badly or if the method of thinning stirs up the soil surface so
plants can re-establish and the nearby unthinned areas therefore get more
light and subsoil moisture as well as grass seed from the thinned areas.
Thinning though may cost more if it would mean pushing with a dozer rather
than pulling with a chain. Graziers may not be able to afford it.

Are there methods of opening some up without affecting the biodiversity
of the scrub?

It would have to depend on the environment. In some places not thinning may
almost destroy the land altogether - in others the more trees the richer the
environment. When you talk about biodiversity what are we aiming for? Are we
assuming that to keep the maximum number of native animals we need the land
to stay as similar to how it was at European settlement ? Or are we looking
to have an even richer diversity of life than existed then - for example
having more fire sensitive species especially those that were rare under
aboriginal fire stick management?
If we want the land to stay as it was, assuming that any change might be
dangerous and endanger the balance between plants and animals that had
existed for hundreds if not thousands of years, then we probably need less
trees in large areas of Australia. I can give you lots of information about
how thinly wooded Australia was originally. Some of the information is on our
website under "tree increase in Australia" (click here) but I haven't
got around to
putting all the info I have on there yet.

One question that no one can answer is what conditions are needed to
regenerate each and every tree species. Some can regenerate from seeds in any
year, others seem to need wet years, others fire, others an open area
(Therefore the land should be a lot clearer to get regeneration for the same
mix of
species. This is why clear felling of some forests is essential )

Should landholders leave thickened scrub alone?

It depends on what we are aiming for as I have said above but I don't think
we can get away with leaving very thickened trees in very brittle areas
with-out destroying the carbon, water and mineral cycle and losing the soil.

What if it
is remnant (it then needs  permit to clear)?

I don't like the term "remnant" becuase it sounds as though these trees are
left overs from a previously greater forest when in many areas it is the
opposite. The land used to be much clearer because of fire use ( and there is
some evidence that the loss of some medium sized native mammals has allowed
the trees to increase because these native mammals may have eaten young
saplings and the tree shoots after a fire. Tim Flannery in "The Future
Eaters" suggests that changed use of fire - widespread rather than patchy -
could be what drove them to extinction). Our 70 year old neighbour has seen
some of that increase in trees in his own lifetime and other locals tell
similar stories.

One new development in land management is the so called "cell grazing" which
we have seen make improvements in grass cover with-out the need to pull trees
but I think there is a limit - when trees become too thick there may not be
enough moisture for grass even with the improved water cycle from cell
grazing. Of course if trees become too thick cattle can't fit between them to
graze anyway. Some people using "cell grazing" believe the intense grazing
and trampling could actually prevent tree thickening by making it hard for
tree seedlings to compete against vigorous healthy pasture as well as cattle
trampling tree seedlings. This has yet to be proved in the extensive grazing

My personal solution to all this is something along the lines of Patrick
Moore's article on our web site called "variable retension forestry" click here (Patrick
Moore was one of the original founders of greenpeace).  I think what would
work best would be a kind of  tree rotation ( like crop rotation). This would
mean pulling part of a property and using fire to manage regrowth. It will
gradually grow more seedlings as well as the suckers that survived pulling.
Perhaps 20% of a property could be pulled each decade so that by the end of
50 years the first part pulled would be thickly timbered again and it would
be time to start the cycle again. Of course you need to leave some older
trees each time you pull - this is just a simplified explanation - but you
would then have property with a mixture grassland and woodlands in different
stages each area giving a competative advantage to different birds, reptiles
and mammals.
Jane Ashby