The most pernicious aspect of the environmental protection measures imposed on farmers over the past decade has been the way these laws have intruded into the very rhythms and cycles of rural family life to convert virtues and core aspirations into serious threats to the survival of the family business unit.
A little dramatic, you think? Well let’s get this straight, the farm without a single tree on 2,000 hectares has nothing to fear from any legislation, let alone the native vegetation protection measures. With no trees there is little chance of threatened species being present and only minimal tree seeds from wind and bird dispersal. And that same unfettered wind will subject any successful seedlings to dryer than normal conditions which will further impair their growth. Such farms have almost unlimited options available to them. Their productivity is low but they also have substantially lower costs for pasture maintenance of both weeds and tree seedlings. It is not smart but they survive at the environment's expense.
The more "virtuous" farmers, on the other hand, will have retained shade trees, shelter belts and a widely spaced canopy in the native form of the integrated grazing and forestry operations that are the darling of so-called sustainable agriculturists the world over. And they have everything to fear from what urban Australia has enacted in the name of environmental protection.
For they will have a large stock of trees that are maintained in the condition that maximises the production of fresh leaf, flowers and seed. This will also maximise the populations of dependent species who will also play their part in seed dispersal and fertilisation. And this exaggerated seed supply will then fall into more sheltered, moist and productive micro-climates where both weed and seedling growth will be excessive. So while the productivity on such farms is higher it also comes with substantially higher pasture maintenance costs, especially of tree seedlings.
Much of this pasture maintenance is done by the farmer in routine action with existing equipment. But if a section is postponed in the wrong season then it "gets away", growing to a height that will need outside contractors with specialised equipment. And it will then also be detected by the satellite scans as tree clearing or even forest clearing if the saplings have grown to more than two metres. But it is still, essentially, pasture maintenance.
But the problems really occur when we add a real live family into the equation. For a corporate farm enterprise can stay on top of these duties in ways that family farms can rarely do. Put one kid through university and the pasture maintenance backlog can be redressed before the next good season. Put three kids through university and it is a statistical certainty that the regrowth will enjoy three good unhindered seasons, one of which will be an extended one. And this is all it takes to turn an open wooded paddock into a close canopy native forest that cannot be touched.
But kids are not the only trigger for systematic public acquisition without just terms. Let the old fella stay on for ten years longer than he should have, out of love, respect and a well founded fear that he might waste away if he is “taken out of harness”, and an arrogant government shall inherit a new native forest. Let the lad bite off a bit more than he can chew and the pasture maintenance budget will go to the bank instead. Let mum stay on alone in a home full of memories and the vegetation vultures will be circling overhead. Do the right thing by your ex-wife and the pasture maintenance budget will go into the settlement. Contest the settlement and it won't just be the lawyers sinking their fangs into the kid's inheritance. Help one of the kids out of a financial hole and stumble into the vegetation management pit.
Have a child with special needs, watch a dear one die slowly, have gifted daughters who don't like tractors, and the vegetation undertakers will be measuring up your departed paddock.
Acquisition of land by stealth has been systematically incorporated into the warp on which the weft of ordinary farming life is woven. For the pasture maintenance budget has always provided the discretionary reserve that has funded both the knocks and the opportunities. In the past it was only the "interest" portion of the cost of foregone pasture maintenance that compounded each year. It was manageable, a calculated risk with cost and benefit.
But under the Pax Ecologia it is the very amplitude of the rhythms of rural life itself that compounds the risk of foregone pasture maintenance into a permanent loss of the family "capital". Ordinary men and women, exercising normal care and attention, in the normal pursuit of the legitimate goals of a normal life would need to be very fortunate to avoid falling victim to these systematic measures.
We know that this would never pass the test of reasonableness if it were applied, with full knowledge, to the urban majority. Indeed, it would be an eight lane motorway to political oblivion. The problem for the farming community is that for as long as they remain a misunderstood, easily ignored minority in an urban dominated lawmaking entity, (the existing State within the Commonwealth) the test of reasonableness will be determined by that misinformed, disinterested majority.
And that urban majority has consistently demonstrated that it is incapable of taking sufficient interest in the affairs of the rural minority to form a properly informed test of reasonableness for anyone but themselves. Their test of reasonableness for the rural community will always have a substantial component of urban perceptions and self interest built into it.
And to expect the rural minority to devote the time, resources and effort required to achieve even a partial shift in this monolithic urban ignorance is to expect them to shoulder a burden that the same urban majority would not accept as reasonable for themselves. But this majority has clearly assumed that it is reasonable for the victims of their ignorance. It is a fundamental incapacity to empathise. And this is the essence of the distinction between two communities rather than mere diversity within one community.
It is the recognition of this distinction that has led to the past two annual conferences of NSW Farmers passing motions to "investigate the feasibility of a non-metropolitan state". It is not rhetoric, it is a cold hard look at all the options and the numbers are stacking up. It is the standard rational response to a majority that cannot or will not deliver reasonableness to a minority, that has already squandered any right to govern that minority.
And as the old Bob Dylan song about the parting of ways goes, "It aint no use to sit and wonder why, babe, if you don't know by now".