Greens, farmers in line over tax

16/07/2008 - 22:00

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I've been intrigued to find how the twists and turns in the debate over climate change creates new political allies and odd ideological pairings.

I've been intrigued to find how the twists and turns in the debate over climate change creates new political allies and odd ideological pairings.

Take for instance recent debate in the senate, which has been pointed out by some in the forest industry.

There, the federal government's move to amend tax laws to provide a credit to investors wanting to plant trees has brought the likes of Bill Heffernan and Barnaby Joyce in line with Greens senators Christine Milne and Bob Brown.

More importantly, the Greens politicians have been upset about how offering tax credits to grow trees will upset our agricultural producers.

That's a new one to me: the Greens onside with the farmers.

Obviously the debate is deeper than that but it's an interesting pre-cursor to an emissions trading scheme.

Those who have been most shrill on climate change don't want to see investors in St Georges Terrace or Hunter Valley coal companies winning from this change.

Thus the new thrust of protectionism for Australia's farmers. In the emotional language of the era, our farmers are now food producers threatened by those greedy foresters, their rich mates and the emissions club.

Never mind that many farmers never produce a calorie of food for human consumption. Don't worry that farming is being impacted by climate change more rapidly than other industry.

Forget about the fact that farming can benefit significantly from forests of any kind being planted close by.

Just ignore the fact that forestry can restore degraded land to some form of usefulness. For convenience, those once nasty, land clearing, mulesing, chemical-spraying cockies are now a dying breed of custodians of fragile land that we need for our very survival.

No doubt the same people protesting about live sheep exports have suddenly got warm and fuzzy for farmers.

They'll get backing from many in the farming sector who want rural Australia to remain how it was in the 1970s.

So where did the urgency in the climate change debate go? It seems that having got everyone's knickers in a twist over global warming, the wrong reaction has been generated.

The Greens want energy users to use less energy and pollute less, not find new ways to soak up carbon. That wasn't in the script.

Perhaps, it seems, the real danger is someone might make some money while providing a solution to climate change.

So to raise awareness of that danger we have to have some sort of creature at risk of the bulldozer whose plight needs to be highlighted.

We've had rock spiders, orchids and goodness knows what else, so enter the latest endangered species - the farmer.

The new cause célèbre is food production because, according to the news, we are experiencing food shortages.

In Australia, this argument is simply untenable. We produce enough food to feed many times our population, to argue about shortages in Australia is being liberal with the facts.

Admittedly, food costs are rising here because of, among other things, rising energy costs. However, there's a strong argument that we've simply paid too little for food for a long time. Protecting food production won't solve that problem.

The Japanese and Europeans have learned that trying to preserve their farming cultures has come at a very high cost.

The best way to protect farmers is to make sure they are paid enough to make the job worthwhile, not preserve them with cosy, little political deals or use them as expedient political pawns.

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It's week three for the GESB debacle and still no answers from anyone as to what might have really happened.

For those on another planet, the state government halted the mutualisation of $9 billion of state-controlled superannuation funds under the former Government Employees Superannuation Board.

The change, giving full membership to about 300,000 Western Australian current or former public servants and opening the funds to new members, was stopped on June 30, the day before it was meant to happen.

It would have created the 13th biggest player in the competitive superannuation market overnight.

Since it was announced the mutualisation had been halted, on July 1, there has been no official word on anything about this.

But behind the scenes there is much finger pointing about who is to blame.

One version of events is that differences of opinion emerged at the 11th hour in treasury.

The official in charge of the process, I have been told, was countermanded by under-treasurer Tim Marney who then advised treasurer Eric Ripper not to go ahead with the deal.

But word from a source close to treasury is that the agency has lost faith in GESB's management.

I don't know which version is true because all official lips appear to have been sealed.

Whatever the case, it is an extraordinary thing to happen and it's amazing that barely a word has been written outside this newspaper.

Do I hear the sounds of a broom gently sweeping and a carpet being quietly lifted?

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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