Farmers' rights will be thrust into spotlight

30 May, 2002 07:00 PM
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THE Federal Government will be given a list of demands on property rights from the National Farmers Federation this week, following the endorsement of the group's working paper at its annual conference.

Considered the first major breakthrough since the Government agreed to support demands for compensation at the last federal election, NFF members hailed the endorsement as the most important decision at the conference.

NFF president Peter Corish said support for the paper was an invaluable step in the process of securing property rights for farmers, which remained the number one priority of NFF's domestic policy.

"The position paper is extremely important because until we had an official position, it was hard to represent NFF to government," he said.

"We are about ensuring farmers have got rights which account for economic viability and environmental sustainability, and compensation if inequity exists."

The paper included details about the financial impacts on farmers from environmental legislation and water arrangements, as well as the need for clearly defined legislative and enforceable property/water rights.

It called for comprehensive, transparent and rigorous public benefit testing processes to be included in legislation and for the Federal Government to develop a framework for incentives and compensation prior to the enactment of the new regulations.

Mr Corish said the first step would be to show the paper to the Federal Government, which had agreed to work with NFF to present a draft policy at the next CoAG meeting in September.

He said major hurdles still existed, with funding arrangements likely to be the focus once farmers' rights had been established.

"Where the money is going to come from is a big question," he said.

"It's potentially billions of dollars."

Mr Corish said NFF would look to deputy prime minister John Anderson to drive the policy, but it would ultimately be in the hands of State governments to implement the changes.

To prevent unnecessary delays in its implementation, NFF urged its member organisations to continue to lobby State governments.

Victorian Farmers Federation president Geoff Crick said it was important to ensure existing rights were not disrupted by future changes.

He said debate at the conference had focused on the definition of farmers' rights and their durability.

Victoria had been particularly concerned about disruption to water legislation, which had proved somewhat successful for farmers.

"We wanted to ensue any rights or title were in perpetuity rather than having a finite time limit," he said.

"We perfected the paper and with some amendments everyone was pretty comfortable."

NSW Farmers Association president Mal Peters said it was important a balance between environmental and social outcomes was recognised but farmers could no longer be expected to bare the entire cost burden.

"If communities want to limit farmers' rights to their land and water, they have to pay compensation," he said.

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