THE Australian Greens and the Nationals have engaged in ideological warfare in the federal Senate, with farmers’ rights central to a tit-for-tat clash last week.
The Greens raised a motion attacking the National party for claiming they believed landholders should have the right to "say no" to Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mining.
It cited various National party members, including leader and Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister Warren Truss, federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce and Rural Health Minister and NSW Senator Fiona Nash as supporting farmers being able to block CSG activity on their land.
Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister and NSW Nationals MP Michael McCormack, Victorian MP Andrew Broad and Senators Bridget McKenzie, John Williams and Matthew Canavan were also dragged into the motion’s wording.
Senator Canavan said his colleagues welcomed the Greens taking “such a keen interest” in the public statements of the Nationals who support giving landowners greater rights.
“As the motion notes, our State based parties are pushing for, or have implemented when in power, such policies,” he said.
“That is where these issues ultimately have to be resolved - at the State level.
“Any changes must of course interact with state mining lease conditions, royalties and make-good regulations.”
In expressing his party’s lack of support for the motion, Senator Canavan said the Senate had already established an inquiry into the issue “and we should wait for it to report.”
“We also welcome the Greens' new-found interest in supporting landowner and farmer rights - but why they did the Greens refuse to preference the Victorian National Party in recent State by-elections even though the Nats had adopted a 'right to say no' policy?” he said.
“Is it because the Greens only support farmers' rights when it suits their inner-urban agenda but, unlike us, do not support farmers when they want to build dams, cut down trees, shoot pests or grow crops?”
The motion - moved by Greens' mining spokesperson and Queensland Senator Larissa Waters - was eventually defeated by 16 votes with the Coalition and Labor voting against it together, along with crossbench Senators Bob Day, Dio Wang and David Leyonhjelm.
The 10 Greens’ Senators were backed by crossbenchers Jacqui Lambie, Nick Xenophon, Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus. Senator Lazarus was instrumental in establishing the current Senate inquiry into CSG and mining land access issues.
In a statement, Senator Waters said by voting against the motion, the Nationals had failed to stand by their claims about farmers being able to block mining on their land.
“The Nationals need to come clean to farmers who are forced to have coal seam gas drills on their land without any legal right to say no,” she said.
“The Nationals need to stop taking political donations from big mining and gas companies and stop saying one thing in regional communities and on national TV and another in the Senate chamber.”
But the Nationals hit back later in the week in raising another motion which highlighted concerns about illegal activism targeting farmers, which the Greens opposed.
The original motion was watered down to remove the term “agri-terrorism” in order to maintain Labor’s support.
The final version said instead “acts of illegal activism” which include “ignoring a farmer’s right to say no to property invasions, which could lead to the potential spread of disease and/or pests which could jeopardise Australia’s hard won reputation for agricultural excellence, placing in danger the safety of activists, farmers and their families and the health of animals and crops”.
The motion also said agriculture, fisheries and forestry was one of the biggest employers in rural and regional communities, employing more than 300,000 people.
It said Australia’s 135,000 farmers provided 93 per cent of the domestic food supply and supported an export market valued at $43.5 billion in 2014-15.
“Australia’s stringent biosecurity system and best practice farm safety standards underpin our agricultural export strength and our reputation as a producer of some of the highest quality produce in the world,” it said.
But Greens WA Senator and agriculture spokesperson Rachel Siewert asked that the Greens be recorded as being opposed to the motion.
Last week, Senator McKenzie also unleashed a tirade at the Greens during a Senate debate over freight and logistic costs.
“I just love following the Greens - it is like rainbows and lollipops,” she said.
“If we could all just bike and walk our way to work and address the significant freight task we have going forward as a country by walking and with pushbikes, we would be a better nation.
“It points once again to their (Greens) absolute fixation on inner urban electorates and the elites in our community.
“They profess to stick up for rural and regional Australia (but) they are doing nothing more than pandering to the elites in inner urban capital cities such as in my own home State of Victoria.”