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TAS Country : June 21st 2012
Friday, June 22, 2012 Tasmanian Country 9 Opinion Land clearing ban lacks sense TFGA matters with Jan Davis PRESERVATION: The Tasmanian Government has placed restrictions on private land clearing from 2015. '. . there is no mention in the legislation of how little or how much that compensation might be; or how long the government can stall the process' THERE has been little publicity given to the fact that by the beginning of 2015, just 20 months from now, the Tasman- ian Government will bring the shutters down on land clearing for agricultural purposes. To be specific, farmers will not be able to clear, remove or destroy any trees that are native to Tasmania or introduced as species used for wood production, such as pines and main- land eucalypts. Why? Because in its wisdom, the government has a revised policy for ensuring the preservation of Tas- mania's native forest estate. This policy dictates that we must preserve at least 95 per cent of the total area of native forest estate area that was measured in the lead-up to the signing of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement in 1997. To meet that minimum, broad-scale clearing and conversion of native forest was phased out on public land by 2010 and it has to finish on private land by January 1, 2015. Effectively, this means that a farmer is not generally allowed to clear any more than 40ha in any 12 consecutive month period up to the end date. There are some exemptions for small-scale clearing and the mainten- ance of infrastructure. Farmers should seek advice on their options. There is some useful infor- mation on clearing controls for land- owners on the Forest Practices Auth- ority website. There is one small proviso. If it is judged that we have conserved more than the target 95 per cent figure, then small-scale clearing may be permitted after 2015. Therefore, it is important for farmers to know not only what their own options are, but also how the state is faring on the 95 per cent rule. When this policy was introduced, the clearance rate was 12,000 to 16,000 hectares a year. Now, the average rate is about 500ha a year. The area remaining before the threshold is reached is a total of 9081 hectares. It may be possible for farmers to claim compensation if they are thwar- ted in their bid to create more paddocks from native forests. Under section 41 of the Nature Conservation Act 2002, an affected owner may apply for compen- sation for any financial loss, but the application must be made with 180 days ''of the day on which the landowner became an affected owner''. I reckon the lawyers would have a field day with that clause. By the way, there is no mention in the legislation of how little or how much that compensation might be; or indeed how long the government can stall the process. The patterns of land use in Tasmania are set to change as the roll-out of irrigation across the state creates significant new opportunities for agri- culture. This will mean more options may well be available for some areas that were once thought unsuited to crop- ping or improved pasture. Once again, the messages coming from the government are mixed. On the one hand, farmers are being encouraged to invest in irrigation schemes to enable increased high-value production; and the government is talking up the capacity of Tasmania to become a national food bowl. On the other, the government is rapidly closing off options for future farm expansion; and burdening the sector with more and more regulations that are making it virtually impossible for farmers to compete with their interstate peers and remain financially viable. The Forestry IGA proposes to furth- er lock up huge tracts of the state; but we are assured that future timber needs can be met from plantations. No one seems to be thinking this through at all. If we've locked up most of the remaining public native forest areas, where are these plantations going to go? Some of the expert reports prepared under the verification process for the IGA indicate that the expectation is that the state's farmers will once again step into the breach and fill this gap. That simply isn't going to happen. Some estimates indicate that the decrease in forestry-related farm asset values caused by sovereign risk since the CFA only a few years ago has topped $2 billion --- and there has been not one red cent of government com- pensation paid to affected farmers. No sane farmer would consider turning over any agricultural land to tree crops after they've seen their property and land values fall and their incomes destroyed. It makes no sense, no matter what way you look at it. Things have changed a lot in Tas- mania since the 2015 conversion ban was introduced in 1997. More than half the state is already protected in re- serves, and these protected areas con- tinue to expand. Agriculture is one of the few bright economic spots in our state economy --- and our sector is poised for a further growth-spurt. Yet there are sever re- strictions on our potential to achieve this growth --- not least this ban on expanding agricultural production areas. Maybe it is time the government revisited the 2015 conversion ban --- if only to head off claims for compen- sation by affected landholders. Own a bright future *30% deposit, 3-year term monthly repayments. Offer is available to business customers only and subject to credit approval.Terms and conditions apply. Contact your local dealership for full details. Throughout the entire month of June, you ll enjoy unbelievable bonus offers across all floor stock at your local dealer. Plus, you ll also receive a 3-year warranty and a 3% finance rate* on all tractors. It s a great deal with a great deal more. 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June 14th 2012
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