Net zero debate: Farmers want payback as climate talks near crunch time

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says the states should compensate farmers who lost out through laws which helped Australia reach its Kyoto targets. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud says the states should compensate farmers who lost out through laws which helped Australia reach its Kyoto targets. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

State governments - not the Commonwealth - should compensate farmers who lost out through land clearing laws which helped Australia reach its Kyoto climate targets, federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has said.

The National Farmers Federation has lobbied the Nationals to push for a redress scheme for landowners as it enters a crunch week of negotiations with the Liberals on a plan to reach net zero emissions.

What protections Prime Minister Scott Morrison is prepared to offer communities and industries in regional Australia has emerged as a key factor in whether the Nationals will agree to a roadmap which includes a net zero by 2050 target.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor on Monday said the Coalition would always stand by traditional industries.

The National Farmers Federation has reaffirmed its support for a net zero by 2050 target, provided there is an "economically viable" path to reach it and their members are not burdened by "unnecessary regulation" in the transition.

The group briefed the Nationals party room on Monday about their position, which includes a push for farmers to be compensated for their role in helping Australia meet its Kyoto climate targets.

The peak body's president Fiona Simson said in the 1990s and early-2000s farmers in Queensland and NSW were the victims of land clearing laws which removed their property rights, without compensation.

Ms Simson said the "statutory theft" had left a "festering sore" for farmers.

"Appropriate redress must be provided," she said.

Energy Minister Angus says the Coalition will always stand by traditional industries. Picture: Simone De Peak

Energy Minister Angus says the Coalition will always stand by traditional industries. Picture: Simone De Peak

"Fixing this will go a long way to ensuring farmers are enthusiastic participants and supporters of future emission reduction solutions."

Asked about the lobby group's request, Mr Littleproud insisted the Commonwealth had already paid compensation to the state governments. He said the states should now compensate the farmers, not "put it [the money] in their pocket and walk away".

"They [National Farmers Federation] raise very valid points, but that compensation was held back by state governments. So it's important to understand who had the money and who should pay the bill now," he said.

Mr Littleproud reiterated his view that regional Australia had already "footed the bill" on climate action.

"It's time to make sure we square the ledger as best we can and to make sure that there are no further impacts on regional Australia in committing to net zero," he said.

Pressure on the Coalition ratcheted up over the weekend after the lobby group which represents some of Australia's largest emitters released a plan advocating a near doubling of the government's 2030 emissions reduction target and a firm net zero by 2050 commitment.

The Business Council of Australia says modelling shows a smooth transition to net zero could deliver a $890 billion economic boom and create almost 200,000 jobs by 2070.

Among the report's recommendations were proposed changes to the mechanism used to ensure large facilities do not exceed emissions thresholds.

Mr Taylor labelled the proposal a "carbon tax" over the weekend, before again criticising it during a speech to an online forum on Monday.

"A substantial reduction in the safeguard mechanism is a backdoor carbon tax consumers will pay for, which is not acceptable to the government," he said.

Mr Taylor used the speech to argue how new technologies could offset emissions from traditional industries, effectively allowing the coal and gas sectors to keep running as Australia transitioned to a net zero economy.

"Net zero is not zero. It is not zero emissions," Mr Taylor said.

"For a country like Australia, this is the difference between destroying some of our greatest economic strengths versus defending and even strengthening them.

"Our government will always stand up for our traditional industries, and their crucial ongoing role in underpinning our economy and reducing emissions."

Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on Monday said while there were "vastly divergent" views on net zero in his party room, all of his colleagues agreed the transition shouldn't come at a cost for regional Australians.

"They don't want us jerking the economic rug out from underneath their feet," he said.

Mr Joyce said it would be "ridiculous" to suggest all members of his party would accept the plan. But he indicated that, unlike other parties, differences of opinion wouldn't mean that one couldn't be agreed to.

Mr Joyce agreed farmers should be compensated for the land clearing laws, but did not clarify by which tier of government.

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This story Farmers want payback as Coalition net zero talks near crunch time first appeared on The Canberra Times.