(1) News in brief
(3) Salinity Maps - Dr David Dent
(4) WA Govt releases draft Sustainability Strategy
(5) CSIRO gives tick to Qld wastewater project
(6) NSW Legal challenge to conservation laws gains momentum
(7) NSW Farmers launches Booklet
(8) Academics blame Farmers
(9) Mallee farmers call for emu cull
(10) Sustainable Irrigation
(11) Murky future for world water - a drain on farmers
(12) Communication, drought, depression & suicide
(13) Greenhouse Gases from Broadacre Crops
(14) Farmhand Foundation & Landholder issues - Peter Wren (WA)
(15) QLD graziers bill government for roo agistment -
(16) Time to Fix Your Roo Imbalance. - Ian Mott (Qld)

(1) News in brief

Rural employment is collapsing because of drought, with the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing a massive ten percent fall in just the last three months.
NSW opposition leader John Brogden is promising to look at better management of key resources like water and native vegetation. He says the water sharing plans cannot be implemented until there is a "genuine" socio-economic impact analysis.

A new report by the Productivity Commission shows there are no significant tax advantages for farmers to undertake conservation on farm.  and says if environmental activities are to be encouraged, tinkering with the tax system won't work, maintaining there are more cost-effective and direct ways to do it.
California Professor of Geology, Geoff Mount says a partnership between producers and scientists makes all the difference to improved river life. Dr Mount says while landholders know the country, outside expertise can build on this for the betterment of the rivers.
Don Burke recently said "Conservationists are becoming the whingers and farmers the achievers.... the conservation movement has failed miserably in the last few years. They are not offering any solutions"


The forthcoming meeting of the Council of Australian Governments
(COAG), scheduled for November, is set to provide the scene for tough
negotiations between the Commonwealth and the States on water reform.
The Federal Agriculture Minister, Warren Truss, has warned that the states
are at risk of losing up to $3.8 billion in National Competition Policy (NCP)
payments as a result of failing to assist farmers to deal with changes to
water entitlements and environmental responsibilities.
Delivering the keynote address to the Australian National Committee on
Irrigation and Drainage (ANCID) 2002 Conference in Griffith last month, Mr
Truss said that it was clear that the States were failing to meet their
responsibilities under the 1995 inter-governmental agreements which
established Australia's NCP. He said that the Commonwealth was
concerned about the value it was receiving for NCP payments.

(3) Salinity Maps - Dr David Dent


Thank you for the latest edition - very interesting News ands Views, 5.10.02
I was particularly interested in the discussion between you and Sarah Moles. You have a very valid point about making maps meaningful to non-specialists and also about the apparent complexity of the new airborne geophysical surveys that produce 3 - dimensional maps of the location and amount of salt in the landscape. The BRS salinity team is working in the St George area at the present to calibrate the airborne maps and assess whether the salt will, in fact, move from where it is to where it's not wanted. We have a local steering group based in St George and we can let you /correspondents have more information if you want it - about the group or the technique.
It is so heartening to read that folks like yourself, the people on the ground, have such a shrewd grasp of what really matters.
Very best wishes,

David Dent

(4) WA Govt releases draft Sustainability Strategy

   The Western Australian Government has just released its draft State Sustainability Strategy, which proposes 11 principles for sustainable development, six vision
statements, 42 priority areas of action and 249 proposed actions, designed
to be implemented over the next five to ten years.
The Strategy addresses the role of government, the management and use
of natural resources, development guidelines, the role of business and
industry and the state's role in contributing to global sustainability.
To view the Strategy go to
Submissions close on January 10, 2003.



CSIRO gives tick to wastewater project
The CSIRO says there are both economic and environmental benefits for the Darling Downs from the ambitious $500 million plus proposal to pipe Brisbane's waste water to the Lockyer and Darling Downs for irrigation use. The CSIRO  study reveals that eight out of ten farmers would benefit from the 100 percent reliable water supply, plus the proposal would allow thousands of megalitres of improved natural flow to go down the Condamine River into the Murray Darling system.

(6) NSW Legal challenge to conservation laws gains momentum

As the NSW Government pushes ahead with a raft of conservation reforms, affecting water, native vegetation and threatened species, it appears there's a quiet rebellion brewing in the bush. A group of "land-rights" activists is challenging the State Government's "authority" to restrict land use on private property. The Constitutional Property Rights Commitee, or CPRC, believes that under common law, land use is only subject to the constraints of Local Environment Plans, not State Government legislation. The committee has now enlisted the help of a high-profile QC in London to argue the case in court. A meeting in Narrabri attracted over 150 people.

President of NSWFA, Mal Peters, says the High Court has now replaced the Magna Carta and is the now the highest court of challenge in Australia. He's had lawyers look at the CPRC proposal and his advice is that its not worth pursuing.

(* Others would argue a clever lawyer can make a lot of difference)

(7) NSW

Farmers launches Booklet

The NSW Farmers Association has launched a booklet demonstrating the environmental work that farmers are doing on their properties. The President, Mal Peters says its vital that the wider community appreciates that farmers are doing constructive environmental works on their land. Mr Peters is not trying to preach to the converted rather highlight their efforts to the city populations and politicians. Mr Peters says its evident "the hard heavy hand of legislation is not the way to get results" and it's time to engage in positive encouragement.

(* It will be interesting to see how much impact one booklet makes on the wider community. My advertising contacts reckon the most effective campaigns are the same message across a broad range of mediums (print, radio, TV etc,) and using various styles (humour, drama, documentary, etc)

(8) Academics blame Farmers

While Canberra residents continue the clean up of red-dust that was dumped on the nation's capital, an academic is  suggesting farmers compensate for the clean-up bill. Dr Clive Hamilton, is the Executive Director of the think tank Australia Institute, and he says farmers are at fault because they aren't managing erosion well enough on their farms. He says wind breaks are critical to erosion control. He disputes that the drought is a legitimate excuse for these big dust storms.
(*It would be good to compare the number of dust storms today with those of the 60`s and those of pre settlement. Dr Roger Stone says NZ glaciers ice cores show Australian dust from dust storms from pre settlement. My guess is that pre settlement dust storm frequency is about the same as now, but the 1960`s would have been the worst era)

"Wake up City slickers: a drought is just bad farm management".

That's the controversial headline in an opinion piece in "The Age" written by Ross Gittins. He argues that "Farming must be the only for-profit industry in the country that passes round the hat whenever profits slip" and that city businesses would not gain the same sympathy. Mr Gittins says good farmers prepare for drought and it's only the bad managers who will be caught out. He says "we should stop kidding ourselves that drought is not going to happen. If you're a farmer in Australia you have to accept that the rain is unreliable and farm in a way that takes that into account". He says to assume there will always be enough rain and when there's not "run to the taxpayer" to ask for a handout is wrong. He says farmers take advantage of the sympathetic feelings city people have towards them.

(* With BushVision in place, we could challenge people like Ross Gittens to swap places with a few farmers and show them how to do it - Plenty of farmers would enjoy watching it )


Mallee farmers call for emu cull
"If the drought don't get you, the emus will". This is the cry coming from Victoria`s northwest, where tens of thousands of the starving birds, are begining to eat away the crops and livelihood's of farmers in the Millewa but the rogue emus could be on the endangered list, with farmers and now politicians taking aim at the national icon -- a cull -- firmly in their sights. As starving emus are begin to work up a taste for crops in Victoria's golden grain center, the Millewa near Mildura, there's heightened speculation an emu cull may be called as early as this week but, farmers like Shane Rogers, are in no doubt a cull is required. He's just taken over the farm from his father, and if the drought wasn't bad enough, he hardly expected what crops he did grow, to be taken by emus.
Mr Rogers just lost an entire crop of oats, and he's loosing Barley and Wheat to the birds every hour. He says a cull is needed, sooner rather than later, or farmers will continue to wear the costs.

(10) Sustainable Irrigation
Sustainable irrigation, is it an oxymoron? Not according to Rural Consultant Liz Chapman. She says we need good science and strong communities to deal with the many issues any reduction in water allocations would have on farm businesses. She says irrigation is "like the pin-up boy for the triple bottom line", and holds the future of inland rural Australia. She says the vibrant rural economies are those that have irrigation. She says the Goulburn Valley has had $100 million invested per annum in value adding in the last five years. On the subject of the debate over water use, Ms Chapman says people are backing into corners and it has to be seen as a bigger issue than merely compensation given that whole lives, whole communities and ecomomies have been built around irrigation.

(11) Murky future for world water - a drain on farmers

A new report on water use has delivered a grim warning for the future. The report by two food and water industry groups in Washington forecasts huge losses in grain production in the next 25 years as water becomes more scarce. To ease the situation the report's authors have called on farmers around the world to move to more innovative irrigation systems. The report is predicting food shortages, environmental damage and a big fall in grain production as water supplies dry up in the future. The report by the International Food Policy Institute and the International Water Management Institute in Washington has used computer modelling to come up with its grim outlook.

(12) Communication, drought, depression & suicide

Fran Rowe, NSW rural counsellor, made these points on a recent ABC viewpoint

After being on a radio program about the drought, listeners rang in to tell me their response to a the program. How important it was for them to listen to others’ stories of the impact of drought. How important it was just to know that someone cared.

This was not whinging, just expressions of the strong feelings and emotions brought about by drought. It impacts on farm, livestock, crops and relationships. Each caller expressed an appreciation of the program’s willingness and ability to increase community awareness. An appreciation that this talk back was one small step towards increasing understanding between country and city.

Media can be distorting. It can be fun. More importantly, used responsibly, there is no doubt in my mind that it is a powerful forum to support individuals, in this case farmers, awake and worrying about drought at 4am.

* Recently a friend who is on a regional rural counselling board told me his regional area had 7 farmers express suicidal tendancies during the last year before the drought started. Despite the best efforts of the counsellors, two farmers carried out their threats. He is afraid there will be many more farmers feeling that way when the drought breaks and their banks put a lot of pressure on them.  - Leon

(13) Greenhouse Gases from Broadacre Crops

Bill Slattery manager of Natural Resources at the Rutherglen Research Institute is working on a project, looking at the contribution crops make to greenhouse gas emissions. He says greenhouse gas figures could be underestimated by as much as 70 per cent because the significance of nitrous oxide in crops in particular is less understood. He says they need to understand crops, soil disturbances and nitrogen fertiliser applications in order to help farmers manage their nitrous oxide emissions. He says they plan to start monitoring chambers to check on the emissions of cereal crops over the next twelve months. Mr Slattery says when soil gets very wet, is worked or has nitrogen applied there is an increase in nitrous oxide emissions.

(14) Farmhand Foundation & Landholder issues - Peter Wren (WA)

Dear Leon

Just read in our Sunday Times of October 6 2002 an article about Peter Holmes a Court CEO of the Austrailian Agricultural Co. (AACo) and his involvement in supporting the Farmhand Foundation to help drought victims.  the Farmhand concert was organised to raise funds and Holmes a Court was approached to underwrite the event  "Telstra chairman  and broadcaster Bob Mansfield had come together with the big end of town to form a foundation to address the immediate crisis and focus attention on long term planning required in rural Australia. Through the efforts of Bob, Alan and what became the Farmhand Foundation (members of which include Sam Chisholm, John Hartigan, John Singleton, and Kerry Packer) the two projects were connected.  The Foundations goals will be both immediate---by assisting with immediate relief---and long-term, to make sure we can keep producing food and fibre for Australia and the world.  It was clear the foundation members could raise the profile of the debate on the sustainable development of rural Australia."

"Every day that Australia does not have a national water policy is another day an opportunity is lost.  Every day without federal, state, and community agreement on the sustainable development of our rural resources is another day export dollars go elsewhere.  This will require innovative solutions to ensure water management plans won't be held up by bureauracy and solutions won't get trapped between federal and state divides.  The foundation will focus the minds of politicians today and ensure the attention of tomorrow's leaders."  The Farmhand Concert is on October 26 at the Superdome with a live broadcast.  

Leon all this is above and beyond my scope and vision, both as a rural landholder and rudiamentary communicator.  However there may be someone out there in Landholders for the Environment and-or BushVision that may have a connection or can see an angle that can be of mutual benefit, especially to promote and drive the debate on the sustainable development of rural Australia.  It may even be a timely challenge to elevate the prospects for the success of BushVision.

Good luck
Peter Wren

* Thanks Peter,
                      Ruth Quigley is working on an opportunity for us to contact the farmhand group.
(15) QLD graziers bill government for roo agistment -

A group of Southern Queensland graziers has sent the State and Federal Governments a $1 million bill to cover the cost of damage from starving kangaroos.

The 13 graziers have accused governments of being too slow to address the kangaroo plague, which they say has sent them into drought three months early.

One of the group, Stuart Barkla of "Rosslea Downs" near Cunamulla, says they don't expect the bill to be paid but want action to make culling easier and more viable. “We need to get governments to work with the kangaroo industry to counter the misinformation that goes overseas, which is just total rubbish about Kangaroos being extinct. I mean you've only got to get in a vehicle and drive through this country anywhere and you can see the volumes of kangaroos around
(16) Time to Fix Your Roo Imbalance. - Ian Mott (Qld)

The current drought provides a once in a decade opportunity for farmers to temporarily rid themselves of a hidden environmental tax that is one of the greatest threats to their long term viability while also correcting a major ecological imbalance.

On many properties the excessive kangaroo population will be eating as much feed as the sheep or cattle. All agree that roo numbers have multiplied due to added watering points, improved pasture and, yes, clearing.

Indeed, Weldon states, "Not every kangaroo species was adversely affected by these changes. The modification of much of Australia's semi-arid land into suitable grazing country allowed the Red Kangaroo to go from an uncommon and rarely seen animal to one of the country's most abundant." [Weldon K, The Kangaroo 1985 (p.108) (text by Prof M Archer, Dr T Flannery & Prof G Grigg)]

Weldon claims that, "Ten species are likely to have benefited from habitat changes occurring since European settlement, and it is mostly these species which figure in commerce and/or pest control: they are mainly the large Kangaroos." (p234)

And it is worth noting that Burke & Wills, in their 1860/61 journey from Coopers Creek to the Gulf and back (a 2,000km transect), shot their own camels and horses, scrounged for snakes, rats and birds but appear to have shot no kangaroos. During their final weeks, the local Murris provided them with fish (from the natural watering points) and Nardoo cakes but, again, no roo meat.

Yet, at a rather modest stocking rate, for today, of one animal to four hectares, there would be about 700 roos within a three kilometre radius of "the Dig Tree". And King, the lone survivor, shot birds to exchange for other foods from the Murris but, again, no roos appear to have been shot.

One can only conclude that if starving men with rifles, camped at a watering point, were not shooting roos for survival, then there were very few roos about.
And today, while farmers must hand feed their stock to keep them alive, the same number of roos will starve. Many farmers will face the heart rending task of shooting sheep rather than prolong their agony. And the roos?

Well, er, um, they're the responsibility of the relevant State Environment Minister and you can bet your mortgage that none of them will be photographed anywhere near a starving roo before rain falls.

Farmers are only allowed a limited licence to cull roos. The various Ministers have assumed effective control over roo numbers but, negligently, have done nothing to ensure their health and well being.

More importantly, as the farmers have quietly gone about the business of improving the productive capacity of their land the relevant Ministers, and the community they represent, have allowed their kangaroo herd to increase to unsustainable levels.

So where a paddock may have originally supported less than 1000 animals prior to European settlement, it may now support the equivalent of 6000, made up of 3000 sheep (or 300 cattle) and 3000 roos.

The farmer has produced an unambiguous "ecological profit", in boosting roo numbers by 2000 but the community, through the Minister, has said, 'thank you very much, they're all ours, and we'll decide what happens to them'.

Out of a total increase in carrying capacity of 5000 animals, the farmer has had no choice but to pay an "environmental tax" of 40% of his (gross) fodder reserves to accommodate the extra 2,000 roos.

If he could have culled 200 roos five years ago there would be approx 1,000 less starving roos today and approx 1,000 sheep that wouldn't need hand feeding. If he had reduced his herd of sheep to build up fodder reserves for the inevitable drought he would only have made room for more roos.

And now, every sheep the farmer sells, hand feeds, or agists ensures the survival of another excess roo that will be ready to deprive him of any future profits in good seasons.

How ironic, then, that one of the contributors to Weldon's book, above, should be none other than Dr Tim Flannery, author of, "The Future Eaters", in which he blames farmers, not ignorant greens and bureaucrats, for extinguishing options for future generations. [Flannery.T. "The future Eaters", Reed Books, 1994]

Droughts are not new. De-stocking is not rocket science. The relevant Ministers have formally assumed the exercise of power over roo numbers. But they have neglected their environmental Duty Of Care to take all reasonable steps to prevent an entirely foreseeable harm.

But what is the farmer's duty of care?

There has been much discussion on what the farmer's duty of care should be. Most of this debate has been in the context of native vegetation management and the appropriate proportion of the original forest cover that should be maintained on farms to protect ecological systems.

In the current Regional Vegetation Management Planning processes in Queensland, for example, the options under debate range from 10% to 40% of original vegetation (on a regional basis) being required to protect the full suite of ecological values.

In Planning and Environment Court decisions in respect of housing developments etc, the norm has been to set aside 10% of a development unit for all public purposes. This has recently increased to 13% but it includes all public purposes from playgrounds to environmental reserves.

The courts have not required contributions in excess of the original forest area or ecological value. Even in the case of endangered wetland communities, for example, there has never been a requirement to add more wetland to a development site than the amount that originally existed on the site.

Australia's 40 million kangaroos are clearly not endangered so a farmer's environmental duty of care should not extend any further than maintaining a proportion (10% to 30%) of the pre-settlement roo population levels.

This natural footprint or, "Undisturbed Ecological Value (UEV)" is the level that is produced without extra watering points etc. It is the ecological equivalent of the Unimproved Capital Value that is the basis for land valuations and local government rate levies.

No-one would seriously suggest that Council Rates could be fairly levied without a proper system of valuation and environmental taxes like the kangaroo impost are no different. Those who have implemented the current roo policy have been grossly negligent in not considering the basis on which the impact of the policy could be equitably distributed.

The case law is over-whelming. The roo burden on farmers is a level of burden that the rest of the community is unwilling to bear. It is unjust, discriminatory and an inappropriate exercise of power.

So what can the farmer do?

Clearly, there is little point in presenting your Environment Minister with a bill for the agistment of his excessive roo herd on your property over the past ten years. The cost of mustering them and delivering them to the nearest Botanic Gardens is prohibitive. Shooting the suffering beasts without a licence would be the most humane but it could also see you in court. And you would grow very old indeed waiting for departmental officers to come out and cull their herd or prevent them suffering.

No one doubts that millions of roos, sheep and cattle will suffer a slow cruel death in this drought. The only moral and ecologically sustainable option is to make their suffering as brief as lawfully possible.

The solution applies equally to domestic stock and community stock. If shooting is not an option for practical, legal or economic reasons then rather than watch animals suffer over six months, farmers should concentrate the animals they want to keep at a few watering points where they can be hand fed to minimise energy loss from searching for food.

The remaining watering points should be shut down to ensure that the suffering of non-essential stock lasts for only a few days rather than a few months. The population that is capable of surviving from the remaining natural watering points is the population that would have survived if this same drought had occurred in 1750.

Once this adjustment has been made the watering points can be re-opened and essential stock can be redistributed to graze the remaining fodder at more sustainable levels.  This process is best done in co-operation with reliable neighbours but may need to be repeated to ensure that animals from other properties and state lands do not migrate to the comparatively superior conditions that will be maintained on your land.

This action would appear to be lawful. Queensland Parks and Wildlife have established the precedent by filling in dams on farm land that has been taken into the National Parks Estate.  The intention is obviously to return roo numbers to pre-settlement levels. And a mix of displacement and death by thirst would appear to be the only foreseeable consequences of these actions.

This action has obviously been taken with the full concurrence of the Director General of the Environmental Protection Authority and the DG is also bound by the General Environmental Duty under Section 36 of the Qld Environment Protection Act which states;

   "36(1) A person must not carry out any activity that causes, or is likely to cause, environmental harm unless the person takes all reasonable and practical measures to prevent or minimise the harm."

Consequently, one can only conclude that the DG has determined that the broader harm caused by the overstocking of the community's roo herd is of greater significance than the reduction in the ecological value (ie., roo numbers) to pre-settlement level. He is aware of the greater harm and the reduction in roo numbers is the reasonable and practicable measure that would prevent that harm.

It would only be on this basis that the Director General could include the action in an environmental management plan that would give him a defence against unlawful environmental harm under EPA Sec 119.

And let he who is without sins of omission cast the first stone.

Ian Mott