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Supporting Our Farmers


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Tags: Agriculture, Deer, Invasive Species, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the minister, who is a serial misleader in this place, has now sat down and I have to say, it was quite interesting to see that little spat between Mr Barnett and Dr Broad, who usually get along so well on issues such as denigrating scientists.

I hope that Tasmanians, particularly young people, take up the opportunities that are being presented to go out and help make sure that the produce comes off the land; that we have enough fruit pickers this season to get our food on the table, but also trade to market. I believe there will be strong take-up, particularly from young Tasmanians, for this year's fruit picking season.

There are a number of challenges faced by Tasmania's agricultural sector that neither Dr Broad or Mr Barnett went anywhere near, and when Mr Barnett makes another false claim about a Tasmania-First Energy Policy, I cannot help but challenge him on that.

Farmers have been crying out for the capacity to install on-farm renewable generation for a very long time, and certainly throughout Mr Barnett's tenure as Primary Industries minister. At every step of the way he has blocked the capacity of Tasmanian farmers to install renewables on their farms and trade across to other farms. That would be a genuine Tasmania-First Energy Policy, where Tasmanian farmers can make that contribution to our energy mix and bring down their costs, as well as make sure that our emissions profile continues to be as clean as it can possibly be.

It is completely dishonest to say that this Government has a Tasmania-First Energy Policy, when a very substantial amount of our energy generation assets are foreign owned.

This is a Government that is actually denying Tasmanian farmers the opportunity to own energy assets and earn an income from those assets, as well as keep their costs down.

The other area of abject failure of this minister to support Tasmanian farmers is in the area of feral deer management. The minister has falsely claimed that we have a sustainable feral deer population in Tasmania. The University of Tasmania has estimated that by the year 2050, there will be around 1 million feral deer in our landscape, but this Government continues to prioritise hunters over farmers.

The Invasive Species Council has written a letter to government yesterday raising their concerns about the recent survey that was undertaken - which, remember, only surveyed the north-east corner of the state. Even that survey found that the feral deer population has doubled to 54 000 at least, since 2016.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association in 2016 estimated the cost to farmers of feral deer at $25 million per annum. If you are serious about supporting farmers, you have to get on top of feral deer. You cannot have an agricultural industry that will be worth a billion dollars by 2050 if you allow feral deer to range unchecked through the landscape, tearing down fences, destroying crops, and as we know, they are going into our protected areas.

In 2018 Greening Australia estimated that 30 per cent of its $6 million budget for the Midlands restoration program was spent preventing deer impacts.

A recent survey of Tasmanian farmers showed strong support for reclassifying deer as a feral pest in Tasmania. More than 90 per cent of farmers who voted agreed deer should be treated as a pest species and not protected.

Feral deer in Tasmania are protected under the Nature Conservation Act. We are the only Australian state or territory that does not treat feral deer as the pest species that they are because, for too long, the Government has been beholden to the hunting lobby - but not one word on that from either Dr Broad or the minister. We are heading towards an environmental calamity for Tasmanian farmers and for our wilderness if government does not get on top of the feral deer problem.

I have spoken to farmers who are tearing their hair out at the cost to them, every week, of either having to engage hunters to keep deer populations down on their land, or fix up their fences, or replant their crops. The Government needs to get on top of feral deer. Farmers will tell Mr Barnett that, if he listens to them. They will also tell him that they would be very willing participants in an on-farm renewable scheme if only he would get with the program and stop blocking this important initiative. I note that the Commonwealth Government has extended grants to farmers for energy efficiency, which is an excellent initiative, but we also need to empower farmers to have their own energy supply on their land so we should be providing grants for on-farm renewables and allowing for energy-sharing and trading between individual properties.

As the Greens pointed out in our submission to the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, the Treasurer should issue an instruction requiring government procurement contracts and subsidies to favour local businesses that proactively employ sustainable farming and climate-friendly practices. Again, not from one of the scientists in this place, Dr Broad or the minister himself, has there been any acknowledgement that the biggest challenge facing Tasmanian farmers over the medium to long term is the accelerating climate impacts - the drying out of water supplies, the impact on irrigation schemes, the threat of bushfires, interruption to supply chains and the potential impact on the exports of our produce.

Finally, I want to talk about the brand and point out that this Government is consistently undermining the brand that Tasmanian farmers rely on by degrading our wilderness and natural areas.