[This article originally appeared in The Weekly Times]
POLITICIANS often claim Australia can be “the food bowl of Asia”. Why, then, do they keep wrapping our farmers in red tape?
The Federal Government recently released its yearly score card of changes in the costs of regulation it imposes, the annual red tape reduction report.
A minor $66 million in regulatory savings were listed in the agriculture portfolio throughout 2014-15.
A great divide is opening between the realities of agribusiness and the commands of bureaucrats.
Red tape means farmers must consult tens of thousands of dictates sprawled over hundreds of Acts and instruments.
There are two ways to attack this regulatory problem.
First, by hacking away at the complex body of regulations farmers already must obey. Unfortunately, it takes serious political courage to rouse such a period of deregulation. An easier mechanism is to stop new regulations before they are made law.
One example of this necessity is the current furore over Queensland’s native vegetation laws.
Years of to-ing and fro-ing, a few election promises, and a change of government later, the Queensland Government is once again aiming at tree-clearing laws.
Drawing on populist images of a chain between two bulldozers, these laws, among other things, will remove “relevant purpose” of clearing exceptions for high-value agricultural land.
Tightening vegetation laws will stifle our most productive lands, damage our global competitiveness and erode farmers’ already weak property rights.
Bad regulations like these too often slip through the cracks, adding to the underlying stock of regulation.
If Australia’s $53 billion agriculture industry is going to survive, and indeed flourish, the Government must get out of the way.