Blueprint for a conversation – by Guest Blogger, Joy Beames, State Agricultural and Environmental Officer

The view from my porch

Wine and conversation on our verandah

Attending a recent National Farmers Federation forum and workshop titled “Blueprint for Australian Agriculture” in Canberra recently I travelled through dry country for most of the way and came through some areas that had received a storm. It seemed like the storms followed the hills around in several areas making quite a contrasting green and brown patchwork pattern.

The forum was a very interesting process with participants breaking up into groups to try and get ideas happening to progress Australian agriculture and “Brand Australia”. The agenda arrived a few days before the event and I was a little puzzled about the world café process that was to be used. It is, according to the agenda document, an ongoing conversation that deepens at each round. People scatter to different tables after each conversation, giving the opportunity to share ideas with others and to meet the stated need for peer groups to mingle. The process works with guiding questions at each table encouraging people to think about what is already working well and how more might be done.

I was obviously one of the dumb ones in the room as I thought that I was to move from one themed group to the next so I began with Natural Resources. However that was not the way it worked at all. Each participant had to select a themed group and then rotate tables in that sector only. I had intended to be in the ‘Agriculture within Society’ but that was not to be. It was however a very interesting and productive exercise. What was interesting is that many of the participants were salary or wage earners who don’t have to rely on the weather and produce markets to earn their income. There were people there from several government departments and private sector companies e.g. chemicals, banking etc. They are all part of the agricultural scene certainly but sometimes their understanding of some of the challenges faced by the farming community was not evident. What was also evident is that they were not responsible for paying their way to attend these forums as they are quite happy to travel all over the country to attend numerous follow up workshops.

The big word used in the natural resources sector was sustainability. We all know that we have to be sustainable or we don’t survive but there are times when implementing strategies to improve our natural resources is not able to be the top priority. Sitting on our front veranda at night with my husband Ken, sharing a glass of wine and conversation, it has become evident in the past few weeks the stock feed has been visibly diminishing and the grain trails that have been laid are very obvious as the stock continually graze those areas. Our top priority at the moment is keeping the sheep alive by supplementing their feed and keeping the water supply available for them. Once we get some good rain and pasture growth then we can think about improving our natural resource base.

All in all the whole exercise was very worthwhile and I believe that it can only be of benefit to Australian agriculture. Well done to the NFF for highlighting the issues.

Balancing the See Saw

780871_52216059

“Angst”, one small word that encompasses so many emotions; one that I used often in a meeting, last week, with Chris Hartcher, Minister for Resources and Energy.

Our discussions centred around the proposed amendment to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Mining Petroleum Production and Extractive Industries) which, among other things, seeks to make the ‘significance of the resource the consent authority’s principle consideration…..when determining a resource DA’. According to the Minister, in legal terminology, the amendment does not favour any industry or natural resource over another. As a ‘layperson’ I had to disagree and after watching the 7:30 Report (ABC) on Friday night, it would appear I am not the only one.

The various policies of CWA of NSW are, in a nut shell, to request State and Federal Governments to develop legislation that protects agricultural land and ground and surface water systems (including the Great Artesian Basin), from adverse impacts of mining and other extractive industries. So when the Chief Scientist and Engineer’s Initial Report on the Independent Review of Coal Seam Gas Activities was released my first thoughts on reading Professor Mary O’Kane’s recommendations were; ‘at last, somebody is listening!’ Then, a couple of days later, the release for comment, of the above amendment to the SEPP; I can assure you it was a fast return to “terra firma”! Luckily it was a patch that had not been dug up….

Now, before the ‘buts’ start, I know they relate to different extractive industries and governing is not as simple as I would like it to be. However the affects, of the wording contained in the SEPP, are more “angst” and distrust. The United Nations principle of balancing the social, economic and environmental capital or ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainable development,  seems to have lost ‘economic ‘to the other side of the see saw.

Having got all that off my chest, the Minister and I also discussed the role of the Environmental Protection Agency’s new compliance arm and whether they would be adequately resourced; what guarantees are in place to ensure that increases in CSG production would stay in NSW and not be sold overseas; whether open cut mining would follow CSG extraction and the difficulty of accessing factual information. Minister Hartcher has offered to work with us on these issues and to assist us by providing resources and information where possible to our members and their communities.

I am confident that the Minister will be happy to progress communication around the very valid concerns of our members and their communities and the government’s need to balance the budget, create investment in/opportunities for communities whilst averting a possible energy shortfall and the backlash over increased pricing.