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What the Papers Say

Melissa Price shares farm “frustrations” of EPBC Act applications

ASSISTANT Environment Minister Melissa Price will have the “lion’s share” of responsibility for the outcomes of a farmer-focussed review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act).

And the Coalition government’s rising rural star, who was promoted to the ministry before Christmas by Malcolm Turnbull to fill a void in Liberal bush representation, will also bring lived experience of her past “frustrations” with the Act’s applications via her pre-parliament experiences working in the agriculture and mining sectors.

Ms Price represents the sparse mining and farming electorate of Durack in WA and worked for WA’s giant farmer owned bulk grain handler and grain marketing co-operative CBH before entering politics, in a legal and then business development role.

Ms Price said in her maiden speech to parliament in December 2013, “This experience was very valuable for a girl from the goldfields.”

“An appreciation and understanding of the farming industry is critical in a seat such as Durack, and, although I am no farmer, this experience taught me much about this important industry, including its passion for community and the challenges of running this type of a business,” she said.

Some five years on, Ms Price said her appointment to the federal ministry as the Assistant Environment Minister to senior cabinet minister Josh Frydenberg was “slightly different”, given her industry background.

“Whether I’m game keeper turned poacher or poacher turned game keeper I’m not really sure,” she said.

“I’ve worked in the agricultural industry and the mining sector.

“I worked of six years at CBH and I’m no farmer, but I’m a girl who grew up in Kalgoorlie.

“But I get it – farms are family businesses and they’re big businesses and the farmers are incredibly frustrated by red tape, whether it’s at a state or federal level.

“I do have the lion’s share of the responsibilities with respect to the EPBC Act which I’m very pleased about because I do bring an industry perspective to the role.”

The farm-focussed EPBC Act review was announced by Mr Frydenberg and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud and a report to government is due in six months, ahead of a full scale review set for 2019.

Ms Price said she welcomed the “mini review” of the EPBC Act to examine how it can impact farmers and agricultural industries in their day to day business activities.

“Given my experience I was thrilled that we were doing this review,” she said.

“What I’m hoping is we’ll understand what the specifics are that impact farmers, like issues with land clearing.

“The tree paddock is one that’s often raised with me in regards to what are the laws around this – what can we do and what can’t we do and ecological communities.

“You can look at a paddock and it looks like there’s a whole bunch of weeds but unbeknown to the farmer, there’ll be some special ecological community, amongst that paddock.

“So how can we make sure that the laws are flexible enough and clear enough and more to the point, that the advice that farmers get from the Environment Department, is consistent and clear?

“I’ve been the person on the other side of the fence trying to get the environmental approval or water approval or in industry trying to get the mining approval and know how frustrating it is.

“It’s really important that farmers know and understand what they can and can’t do but at the same time, we can clean up the Act so it’s really clear, what’s possible and what’s not possible.”

Australian Greens agriculture spokesperson Janet Rice said she didn’t want to see environmental laws watered down.

“All farmers know that what they do on their land affects their neighbours and the broader environment,” she said.

“Our environment laws are there to look after our land, water and precious plants and animals for all Australians.

“Even the Minister himself noted that farmers should not have “carte blanche” to do whatever they want with their land.

“These laws provide oversight and a framework to ensure that our environment is protected. If anything, these laws need to be strengthened, not watered down.

“Next year a full review of our national environmental protection laws is due and the government needs to assure all communities that they aren't jumping the gun with what appears to be a narrow and pre-emptive process.”
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