Foreign investment – the good and the bad

photo: Guy Creighton

photo: Guy Creighton

by GUY CREIGHTON

THE foreign investment debate was reignited last week when Opposition trade spokesman Richard Marles accused Prime Minister Toby Abbott of hypocrisy in chasing a free trade agreement with China.

He said the agreement would be unlikely because of Mr Abbott’s pledge to also lower the $248 million threshold of the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) down to $15 million, which was the “biggest hurdle to investors”.

However federal member for Wright Scott Buchholz said the two are not necessarily related.

“I take a different stance on both of those things,” he said.

“One of the things that we don’t have that would help us have an informed opinion on this matter is a national register to tell us what countries own what.”

Mr Abbott has already pledged to install a national register for all foreign owned land.

Mr Buchholz said if you went to the Northern Territory you would find that the biggest foreign investment came from the United States and the United Kingdom.

“So whilst I’m cognisant of the fact that Australia has grown on the back of foreign investment, we need to cut to the crux of the argument,” he said. “Are we saying we don’t want foreign investment? Because who is going to take up that share if we ask them to leave the country?”

Foreign investment expert, Dr Mark McGovern, said much of the debate around the issue missed the point of why foreign investment was needed in the first place.

“The biggest question in all of this, that nobody seems to be asking, is why do we want the foreign investment?” he said.

“And what we have are all these procedures and rules [in the FIRB] without really addressing what it is that foreign investment brings that we can’t do ourselves.

“Foreign investment can bring good things – but it can also bring bad things, such as distortions in the market and that sort of stuff.”

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Kalfresh Co-owner and Agricultural Director Robert Hinrichsen agreed and said foreign investment would not be controversial if farming was profitable for Australians.

“The major issue is that if farming was more profitable in Australia, you wouldn’t have people trying to get out of it.”

However Mr Buchholz said this in part was why foreign investment was needed.

“If you bought a business that was losing money the first thing to do would be to stop spending; the next would be to try to increase your sales.

“If you turn your cheek and say no we don’t want foreign investment, well by consequence, the cuts that you have to make as a business owner will be far greater because they’re not being offset by additional revenues.”

Mr Buchholz, whose background lies with the Nationals, said even the country-aligned party was not against foreign investment. But it needed to be the right type of investment.

“Grain Corp is a great example. There are people saying we shouldn’t have sold it. [But] it was on the market for two- and-a-half years – any Australian could have put an offer down.

“What we’re seeing with the likes of these big takeover bids is that Australian investors did not see the value of investing in agriculture.

“But when you look beyond our shores, countries are lined up.

“For us to grow with the rest of the world … I’m yet to have anyone convince me that to walk away from foreign investment benefits us as a nation.

“I’m yet to be convinced by the arguments of protectionism.”

However, Dr McGovern, a senior lecturer with the QUT Business School, rejects the notion that any criticism of foreign investment is protectionism and says the Government needs to be wary of the dangers of foreign capital.

He said a crucial issue usually missed was that foreign investors could accrue capital at faster and cheaper rates than Australian investors, making competition unfair.

“Because Australia hasn’t been through a Global Financial Crisis type event like the rest of the world, the availability of finance is unfavourable compared to overseas countries.

“We pay higher interest rates, essentially – I mean the way the US Central Bank is putting out money there is a lot of capital that is circulating into different markets.”

Instead of simply lowering the threshold of the FIRB, Dr McGovern said the sensible course of action would be to look into the entire way the Board reviewed foreign investment.

“I think that in agricultural terms there is a case for lowering that threshold in foreign investment.

“However, even if we lower them, if you look at the residential markets where they have to be approved (no matter the cost), they are still all approved.

“So it doesn’t matter if we lower the threshold and everything still gets approved. If we don’t have a proper evaluation process it makes no difference.

“We need to get serious about working out what actually is our national interest and how we would go about achieving this.”

He added if overseas companies bought up farms there would be a potential for money gained from the farm to be repatriated to the foreign investors’ home countries – so any capital gains would be lost.

“While there may be a few benefits at face value, if the company repatriates that capital Australia’s gross income is lowered,” he said.

“And that’s happening to Australia. Australia’s national income is falling behind its domestic product and that’s the sort of situation that created Ireland’s debt troubles a few years ago.

“Sure we’re producing products in Australia. But we’re not retaining that income – it’s going to foreign investors.

“So, I would hope he [Abbott] would take the time to consider what he is doing. I think there have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions and it hasn’t been fully considered.

“Warren Truss [Nationals Leader] said that we have lost control of our agribusiness. We are now in a position where the significant decisions are made by others. So that is quite a serious issue.”

Mr Hinrichsen of Kalfresh said the moribund state of farming was allowing foreign companies to buy into the Australian market.

“If everybody was making a lot of money out of farming, they’d stay with it. But at the end of the day, we don’t live on a level playing field, in any sense of the word.”

He pointed to the significant disparity in international interest rates that Dr McGovern had highlighted and said, left unchanged, the comparatively cheap foreign capital would eventually make Australian farming unviable.

“We’re at a distinct disadvantage. Ultimately, I think foreign investment is bad because I can’t go to other places in the world and invest as easily as people can in Australia.

“The root cause of foreign investment is that there is not enough money in farming in Australia and the biggest single issue that is dictating that is the cost of capital through Australian banks.”

Nevertheless, what everyone can agree on is the need for an overhaul of the FIRB.

Mr Buchholz said the current framework of the FIRB was an ‘open slather’ approach.

“You go back into the history books for the FIRB and they don’t seem to have a lot of rejections in bids.

“I can’t remember them saying ‘no’ to anything.”

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Free Trade Danger

by GUY CREIGHTON

WARNINGS of risks for farmers and hits to the economy have followed Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s promise to have a free trade agreement with China within 12 months.

Mr Abbott stepped up moves for a bilateral free-trade agreement last week after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, and flagged an open approach to Chinese foreign investment – a critical issue in rural areas.

But Dr Yi-Chong Xu, a Griffith University professor who specialises in international relations, says a bilateral agreement with China may not be Australia’s best course of action.

Dr Yi-Chong said the question to be asked was whether it would be in Australia’s best interest to have a bilateral trade agreement with China.

“Personally, I don’t think so,” she said.

This was because it was better for a small country to go into a multilateral agreement rather than bilateral.

“In bilateral negotiations the larger and more powerful nations get to determine terms of the agreement,” she said.

“Whereas, in a multilateral agreement everything is open to bargaining.”

Dr Yi-Chong pointed to Australia’s free trade agreement with the United States as a perfect example of the dangers of bilateral agreements.

“This is because a free trade agreement may not involve all sectors and industries of the countries,” she said.

“It was not a very good agreement under John Howard. He was pushing for a bilateral agreement with the US and was hoping to bring agriculture to the table because that was the most important issue with Australians.

“The Americans were willing to compromise on everything except agriculture.”

As a result, Dr Yi-Chong said, Australia remained in an unfair trade agreement with the US on agriculture.

Live Exports Standards Questionable

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By GUY CREIGHTON

AS the total number of live cattle sent to Indonesia is expected to rise to 300,000 this year, some have questioned whether the processes in which halted the trade in 2011 have changed.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is confident that the standards of slaughtering in Indonesian abattoirs are no different than in Australia.

And local cattlemen believe the incident that led to the export ban was an isolated incident.

But Dana Campbell, the CEO of Animal Rights group Voiceless, is not convinced that anything has changed.

“It is absolutely false for the current Government or even the past Government to claim Indonesian abattoirs are the same Australia’s,” she says, “they’re not.”

And she says there is evidence to prove this.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott was in Indonesia last week to – among other things – reinforce the beef ties between the two nations.

In a speech delivered to a business lunch in Jakarta, Mr Abbott apologised for his predecessor’s actions.

“We can work together – but it will take some effort, especially after the shock of the former Australian Government cancelling the live cattle export trade in panic at a TV program,” he said.

“Nothing like this can ever be allowed to happen again.”

Mr Abbott added that after visiting Indonesian slaughterhouses last year he found the standards were ‘comparable’ to those of Australia’s.

“I … reject any notion that Indonesian standards are lower than Australia’s,” he said.

Local producers also are optimistic the cattle of their northern counterparts are being treated more humanely.

Bruce Richardson, a south east Queensland export cattle producer, said that while he hasn’t been to Indonesia, he believes the cruel treatment of cattle in Indonesia in 2011 was an isolated event.

“I don’t think that in the bigger plants up there, which would account for 95 per cent of the cattle trade, those sorts of practices are in place,” he said.

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Bruce with his wife Elaine Richardson on their Fraserview property. Photo: Guy Creighton

“I know they have got lower wages but if you talk to anyone in the meatworks industry they want efficiency, and efficiency is not the crap you saw on TV.

“And that [the cruel treatment of cattle] is disgusting; don’t think I am condoning that, it is disgusting. I believe it was an exception, everything we hear I believe it was an exception.

“But, is it nice to have all those cattle in the north starving to death? If they had gone to Indonesia we would have avoided a lot of that.”

Jeff Johnson, another local cattle producer said there was no way of telling but he had faith in those doing the auditing.

“They should have looked into it before they banned the export trade. I know what they were doing was not good, but it should have been dealt with differently.”

The ‘auditing’ Mr Johnson is referring to is the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) established after the events in 2011 which led to the halt in trade.

However, Dana Campbell, CEO of animal rights organisation Voiceless, said she was critical of the Federal Government’s stance on the live trade to Indonesia.

“I don’t think there have been many improvements. There has been a lot of marketing and a lot of people trying to show that they are doing something, but nothing has actually improved.”

Ms Campbell said the framework installed to address animal cruelty in live exports has been inadequate.

“First of all there have been several more reported acts of cruelty since it was first reported and even after ESCAS was put in place,” she said.

“That tells me that there haven’t been any improvements”

And Ms Campbell said she had the proof.

“We’ve documents of at least two separate incidents in Indonesia since ESCAS went into place. In February 2012 Australian cattle were shown to be cruelly treated in two slaughterhouses, with up to 46 different breaches of the ESCAS framework just in that one incident.

“And those are the cases we know about. And those haven’t been discovered by the government or the industry, they have been found by little non-profit animal organisations.

She said Mr Abbott’s remarks on standards were contradictory to published material on the matter.

“From what I understand they are still using practices that are not allowed in Australia.

“And that is because the Indonesian government are relying on the OIE [World Organisation for Animal Health], which is the world standard.

“It is the minimum that we’re trying to get Indonesia to comply with.”

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Jeff Johnson with one of his prized bullocks destined for the Japanese market. Photo: Guy Creighton

Ms Campbell said the differences between the world standard and Australia’s were stark.

“In Australia we require pre-slaughter stunning. The OIE standards, which we’re striving for in Indonesia, do not,” she said.

“They suffer quite a bit before they are slaughtered without that stunning.

“And they’re still rope hoisting; where they’re moving some of the cattle between Indonesian islands, they hoist them up by the neck. We see pictures of that and that is absolutely not allowed in Australia.”

While Ms Campbell sympathised with cattle producers she said there was no way of telling if the acts of cruelty were more systemic.

“We can’t tell if these incidents are found in the main slaughterhouses or not, that’s part of the problem.

“We don’t really have a good picture, because there is no way of monitoring what is happening when those animals leave our shores.

“There is a huge degree of suffering experienced en route to Indonesia not just at the slaughterhouse. There are 140,000 cattle dying a year on the way to the export markets and that doesn’t even show the morbidity numbers because the number of cattle that are taken sick and die afterwards are not counted. It’s an awful way to go, it’s a horrific thing.

“We don’t have an independent organisation monitoring this. It’s impossible to know what is happening in every ship, every checkpoint, every slaughterhouse, [so] how can you stop it?

“Nothing that has been set up to date has been able to stop animal cruelty. All it does is note it and report it.”

Abattoir secures $23m for world-first biofuel system

By Gavin Coote

They’re described by the Australian Financial Review as an economist’s poster child of the carbon tax.

Bindaree Beef is set to revolutionise its energy system and install world-first technology to power the family-owned plant.

The abattoir in the northern New South Wales town of Inverell plans to install a $45 million biodigester and run the majority of the plant on clean energy with a one of a kind bio-gas system.

Project manager David Sneddon says the family nearly invested $2 million into the piloting of the project.

“We went for the full innovative approach and I’ve had the family support right behind this the whole way,” he said.

“If we could generate our electricity, the other problem we had was our coal-fired boiler, so with this we eliminate our coal-fired boiler.

“We at the moment burn 7,200 tonne of coal a year, so we eliminate that.”

Bindaree Beef were set to be one of the only companies in the region that would have to pay the carbon tax, however now they’ll dramatically lower their greenhouse emissions as they reduce their reliance on coal-fired power.

“We’ll reduce it by 61 per cent on our total emissions but on our taxable, which is everything bar electricity, we’ll reduce it by 95 per cent,” he said.

David hopes this project will provide some leadership for the industry, however he says it’s been difficult formulating American technologies into their own unique application.

“It’s one of the only ones in the world that’s actually worked successfully on these waste streams,” he said.

“The hardest part is, with it being a new innovation and new technology you can’t just go and see it anywhere,” he said.

Inverell Shire mayor Paul Harmon says the innovative new technology is likely to be a major win for the community.

“This is going to be a great benefit for the Inverell community,” he said.

“Obviously during the construction phase it’ll give new jobs to the area and provide some employment other than those working in the meat processing part of the plant, but also the long-term environmental outcomes that will come out of the changing of the energy plant.”

Farmers shed light on rural issues with social media

by Gavin Coote

Farmers are increasingly taking to social media in unique and innovative ways to overcome problems of mental health, land rights and economic uncertainty.

The 24-hour news cycle often centres on the opinions and analyses of those who have never lived outside the suburban sprawl.

Until recently, those living in rural and regional areas found there was little they could do to have their voices heard and balance out the debate.

That’s all changing now, and in a bid to defend their livelihoods, farmers are increasingly taking to social media and sharing their stories.

Discussing mental health issues

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Tom Whitty is one social media personality who’s brought issues affecting farmers, particularly rural mental health, front and centre with the advent of social media.

He’s the director and co-founder of AgChatOz, an online community bringing rural and urban Australians together to discuss issues affecting farmers.

“The idea stems from AgChat in the United States, so it’s a formal social media initiative where they speak weekly, but they’ve also evolved into a foundation where they educate farmers about how to use social media and connect with city people,” he said.

“That’s exactly what we wanted to replicate.

“We have farmers and urban people that drive where the conversation goes and all we do is facilitate it.”

Tom realised the topic of mental health was continually brought up in the online discussions, and as a result he co-founded Rural Mental Health, which he says is similar to AgChatOz with a mental health emphasis.

“The need to fill this gap was crazy,” he said.

“We spoke about anxiety, farming pressures, the role of masculinity, and stigma in rural areas.

“They’re forming real connections and we’re seeing a lot of people do tweet-ups, actually meeting someone you tweet to. It’s a conversation into a hashtag going beyond a screen, and it’s so important that people in rural communities keep talking.”

Marie is a blogger and part-time farmer who started her own Facebook page urging people to shop locally and support their local food producers. Her page has got more than 60,000 likes and came about due to a sense of powerlessness her brother felt in having his voice heard.

“My brother was suffering from depression and he was close to committing suicide so I thought this has got to stop,” she said.

“People need to know what’s going on with our farmers and I started the page to create awareness.”

Bridging the rural-urban divide

Social media is increasingly serving to bridge the divide between rural and urban communities. Image: Gavin Coote

Social media is increasingly serving to bridge the divide between rural and urban communities. Image: Gavin Coote

Kelsey Morgan’s a fifth generation beef producer in New South Wales, and unlike Tom and Marie, she’s only nineteen and has grown up in the social media age. Kelsey says social media has been a good way to bridge the divide between urban and rural communities.

Recently Kelsey learned of a Coal Seam Gas pipe that was being run through her property.

She says social media has harnessed her willingness to put up a fight and make her voice heard in the debate.

“Mining companies have really big advertising budgets and community support but I like to think that farmers have almost more support now because we’ve got our story across,” she said.

“The land in our family has been there for years and it’s really unfair for mining companies just to come in and take our properties and I think social media is getting our story across, personally my story across.”

Sharing farming’s lighter side

Screen shot 2013-09-07 at 1.26.15 PMOscar Pearse is a farmer near Moree in northern New South Wales and is a prolific user of the hashtag #tweetsfromthetractorcab.

Oscar says many farmers on Twitter are using the hashtag to share the experience of what it’s like to plant a crop.

“You can see how crops are going down in Western Australia or central Queensland or our neck of the woods,” he said.

Oscar says it’s a necessity for farmers to get connected in the digital age and show other Australians what a day at the office looks like for a farmer.

“There’s been this assumption that all farmers are whinging or always complaining,” he said.

“If we can talk about the positive stories as well as the negative ones, people will understand our context better and probably be a lot more sympathetic when it comes to exceptional circumstances.

“We love our land, and most of us are incredibly proud of the food that we grow and environmental management that we do.

“Australians appreciate that and want to see what good work’s being done and why not put it up?”

MORE ON STORIFY: http://storify.com/GavinCoote/rural-australia-takes-to-twitter

The great beef divide: southern producers ‘hammered’ by a northern problem

Producers and their agents size up the stock before sale. Photo: Guy Creighton

By GUY CREIGHTON

It has been over two years since the federal government’s ban on the live export of cattle to Indonesia and the effects are still wreaking havoc on the markets and producers.

While the live export ban is seen as a northern issue, cattle producers in Queensland’s south say the actions of the government have decimated their industry and some are being forced to leave the land.

Moogerah grazier Donna Moundsey said because the cattle producers in the top end cannot offload their beef into the Indonesian market, they have sent their cattle into southern markets.

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Donna Moundsey on her Moogerah property. Photo: Guy Creighton

She says the result of the market glut has been the worst cattle prices in a decade and many local producers, including herself, are planning to leave the land.

“Despite a great season – one of the best we’ve had – we are getting some shocking prices.”

In two years Ms Moundsey has seen the price for her best Brahman and Charolais breed weaners drop from an average of $545-a-head, to $210-a-head.

Cattle price graphic

She said she has spent the three months clearing stock from her 5,300-acre Moogerah property, 50km outside of Boonah, in the hope of selling the land at a good price.

Cattle-selling company Shepherdson and Boyd agent Vincent Boyd said the well-documented glut in the northern cattle market – caused by drought and the ripple effect of the live export ban – has caused widespread damage.

“There’s nobody that’s not severely affected by the glut,” he said.

“The number of females being killed is – don’t take this as being exactly right – but I think it is 20 per cent more than over the last three years.

“In other words the gross herd size in Australia is coming down, and some of the worst hit are south of Longreach.”

And while government attention has directed assistance north, he says the southern Queensland industry is moribund and has been forgotten.

Other local producers considering their options are the Allandale mother and son partnership of Judith and Trevor Elliot.

Trevor said that the prices for his Braford are so low they have been forced to hold on to their herd, but have had to sell land to keep their home.

“We haven’t sold any for a while – we’re hoping the price will come back up a bit, but we can’t wait forever,” he said.

“Sooner or later, if conditions don’t improve, we’ll be talking to some agents about the rest of our land.”

The cattle industry reached crisis point in June 2011, after a Four Corners report depicted cruel and inhumane practices of Indonesian butchers slaughtering Australian cattle.

The report initiated a swift and, what producers call an ‘imprudent’ response by declaring a total ban of all live exports of cattle to Indonesia.

This deeply altered Indonesian relations, according to producer Frank Brown, given the country’s reliance on live exports.

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Esk cattle producer Frank Brown with some of his stock. Photo: Guy Creighton

“It’s no good selling boxed beef to the Indonesian market because they can’t handle it, they’re not set up for refrigerating the meat,” he said.

“It’s a wet market, they kill the cattle today to sell the meat tomorrow.”

The ultimate effect has not just hurt cattle producers, with prices for agricultural land plummeting in areas south of Chinchilla and Kingaroy, according to one local property agent.

The property agent based in Beaudesert, who wished not to be named in fear of ‘buyer retribution’, says Chinchilla and Kingaroy are some of the worst hit places because of their position in the cattle selling geography of Queensland.

“These places are getting hammered because they’re the first places you reach to offload surplus stock,” he said.

“Pretty much everywhere south is the same.

“And the result is more producers are leaving and land prices are diving because there is no demand.”

While Harcourt’s and Elders have both said that agricultural properties have held steady over the past two years, the Beaudesert agent says this is thinly veiled by demand for select properties by foreign investors.

“These few properties are holding up the average price, but the aggregate demand just isn’t there,” he said.

Farmers have also taken to social media to voice their concerns.

AgForce Cattle Board director Ian Harsant said his organisation has done everything it can to help producers, but cannot “wave a magic wand”.

However, Esk cattle producer Frank Browne said the ban would live in the memory of every cattle farmer north of Goondiwindi.

“There are signs that Indonesia will start to open up again for producers in Australia, but that’s only going to benefit northern farmers,” he said.

“That’s great for them, but there might not be any of us left down south when that occurs.”

Under the ETS umbrella: Limbo dancing with carbon

by GUY CREIGHTON

CARBON farms which conserve and grow trees could face the timber man’s axe.

The farms were promoted as part of the Federal Government’s carbon tax scheme as a way to store and sell carbon credits to industry’s major polluters.

But the Rudd Government’s early move to an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has left their future in limbo, with timber cutting looming as a drastic income option.

While some businesses are relishing in the government’s move to scrap the carbon tax in favour of an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), others are lamenting on a missed opportunity.

Under the ETS the fixed price for carbon will drop from $24.15 to a floated price reported to be between $6 and $10 a tonne.

This means Australian businesses will find the price for pollution cheaper. But carbon farmers have been left in the lurch, losing the financial incentive to remain viable.

With the former scheme, the biggest polluters in the country would buy a carbon credit for every tonne of greenhouse gas emitted into the atmosphere.

The credits would either be sold by the Federal Government or by carbon farmers.

Carbon farming is performed by locking up tracts of land to plant trees or letting the environment naturally regrow to absorb the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

After using a federally approved methodology, which works out how many tonnes of carbon are stored on a carbon farm per annum, farmers are allocated the equivalent in carbon credits, which they can then sell.

However, farming carbon requires a vast area of land to be economically viable. At $24 a tonne, farming was practicable.

But with a price that could potentially be as low $6 a tonne, many believe there is no future in the industry.

Among those is Neil Gray, a teacher at the Maroon Outdoor Education Centre.

Neil and his family business, AgriCarbon Consultants, had been gearing up for farming carbon since 2005. The business owns 1,500 acres of hardwood land on Mt Perry, inland from Bundaberg.

Neil was one of the carbon farmers awaiting the methodology to be formulated and approved on his type of farm, which was natural regrowth.

But after the recent changes to the carbon tax, Neil said he and his business have nowhere to go.

“We’re stuck in limbo at the moment because of the uncertainty,” he said.

With such a low price for carbon, Neil said there would be no point in trying use his land for carbon farming.

“As an agricultural business, we have got all of this land and nothing to do with it. The traditional method is grazing and we’re currently leasing out to graziers. But at this stage it would not be economically viable to farm carbon at the predicted price.”

AgriCarbon is past start-up, having the required land and mature trees for carbon absorption. Applying to be a registered carbon farmer with an approved methodology is the last hurdle for Neil to jump.

Meanwhile he has received a ‘generous’ offer to log 400 acres of his land for its hardwood.

Although the business is not in dire financial circumstances, Neil says he is still considering the offer, given the future of carbon farming.

As carbon farmers across Australia consider their future, businesses and households hit under the previous carbon tax will continue to receive subsidies and tax cuts despite the drop in the price of carbon.

The Federal Government will now have to source new revenue streams to pay for the compensation.

AgriCarbon business owner Neil Gray says he his left in limbo after the federal government's changes to the Carbon Tax.

AgriCarbon business owner Neil Gray says he his left in limbo after the federal government’s changes to the Carbon Tax.

“The carbon tax was set up to pay for the Household Assistance Package, the Renewable Energies target and the Carbon Farming Initiative, which was essentially a promise by government to establish a system where all farmers could trade the carbon that their land could absorb.”

“The price was initially set at what seemed to be a reasonable commercial level to encourage commercial activity and it was going to slowly go up.

“At $24 a tonne it is commercially viable on a block of land to either farm traditionally or move into strictly carbon farming.

“Farming traditionally would be to allow the trees to grow while keeping the undergrowth thin to be able to graze cattle.”

Neil said while there were many graziers who were are already in his position, with more land and trees capable of trading carbon, most simply didn’t know about or understand the scheme.

“The Government has not been very good in spreading the message about it and its potential in the future.”

Neil said the Carbon Farming Initiative was made for all farmers, not just the ones concerned with carbon.

“The idea is if you have uncontrollable regrowth, which in a lot of places it is, then why not get paid for it?

“Areas like that are impossible to clear and just by locking it up you can get paid, for something that was initially just a cost.

“That was the whole rationale for the scheme – to give farmers another revenue stream for places that were just costing them money to look after.”

Nevertheless, Neil said he had seen bad implementations of the carbon farming initiative.

“We have seen people planting trees on prime agricultural land and it shouldn’t have been done – and it’s actually not supposed to happen.

“We need prime agricultural land for its prime agricultural purpose for producing high quality food and fibre.

“It was never supposed to shut the farm gate for environmental purposes; it was supposed to enable farmers to move into sustainable systems on the land that they have.”

Presently there are only a few companies in Australia making money from carbon farming.

“Somebody has to be able to do the science on the methodology to be able to farm carbon in an area and that might be a 10-year process to happen.”

Neil said he won’t get rid of his 1,500 acres because of its use for grazing, but said the scrapping of the tax and its initiatives will mean a missed opportunity for many farmers.

“I am disappointed.

“Disappointed that it took so long and it’s been so uncertain, because we spent a significant amount of time and money gearing the business up to integrate itself with the Carbon Farming Initiative and it’s just sitting on the shelf.

“It’s going to make it very difficult for carbon farmers currently trying to make money from this.”

Neil said he was fortunate in the sense that he has other sources of revenue to be able to economically survive.

“We wanted to do it from an environmental point of view – we didn’t want to traditionally farm this land. It seemed better suited to carbon farming because it already has substantial regrowth on it.”

Serious questions remain about what will happen to the initiative now that there is no fixed price, or a carbon tax, to pay for it.

“Whether they will find other revenue streams to pay for it is uncertain.”

Neil said the subsidies and tax cuts for businesses were hypocritical.

“Both parties, regardless of whether the carbon tax moves to an Emissions Trading Scheme or is totally scrapped, have said they will continue the tax cuts for the big polluters.”

Neil said after multiple discussions with local politicians, all he received in turn were ‘meaningless platitudes’.

“There’s no certainty in that.”

“Without a carbon farming initiative, what is there to encourage agricultural people, apart from their own goodwill, to manage their businesses sustainably?”