Thursday, October 28, 2021

Farmers are hailing an increase to dam capacity allowances, but conservationists aren't convinced the move holds water

The idea that farmers cannot use all the rain falling on their land seems exraordinarily totalitarian to me but I guess Greenies are the main influence behind it

Coastal farmers in New South Wales will soon be able to capture 30 per cent of the rain that falls on their properties, in what the state government is calling a "historic step" towards preparing landholders for future drought and bushfires.

Minister for Water Melinda Pavey said coastal farmers and landholders were previously allowed to store just 10 per cent of the water on their farms.

"There was a unilateral change in 1999 that said that farmers could only take 10 per cent of the water on their farms across the state," she said.

"That was unfair to farmers on the coast as they have three times the rainfall than inland regions."

Ms Pavey said being able to harvest more water will ensure eligible farmers are more prepared for dry spells and bushfires.

"We saw with the bushfires we had lots of dams that were empty that we couldn't even put helicopters in to take out water to put out the fires," she said.

"This is a common-sense policy that will allow farmers and communities along the eastern seaboard to see themselves through inevitable dry periods."

The new rules will only be allowed on first or second-order streams and will come into effect in early 2022 and will be monitored by the Natural Resources Access Regulator.

Farmers welcome the change

On-farm sustainability manager with Bega Cheese Melissa Balas says this is a significant increase for farmers on the south coast.

"It's good news, it's something we've desperately needed for a long time, and it will take a lot of pressure off farmers who struggled during the drought," she said.

Ms Balas said the increase would benefit farmers on the south coast, where dairy and beef farmers ran out of water back in 2019.

"A 200-acre property, under the 10 per cent you could potentially have a 6-megalitre dam."

"With a 30 per cent increase you could probably increase that to an 18-megalitre dam, and that would get a landholder through a two-year drought maintaining their stock water."

Director of lobby group Dairy Connect Terry Toohey also welcomes the increase but fears it may not be enough.

"It's one good step forward, it's still probably not considered enough to enable farmers to spend the money on more infrastructure to capture that water," he said.

"To put dams in, it's not a cheap exercise to do."

Mr Toohey said farms in high rainfall areas should be able to capture more water, particularly in wetter months.

"I understand we've got to work with the environment ... But ideally, 50 per cent would be more reasonable for high rainfall areas like the north coast," Mr Toohey said.

Conservation council concerned

Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said tripling coastal water harvesting rights puts coastal rivers, lakes and communities at risk.

"I think a 300 per cent increase in the amount [of water] that can be taken from rainfall, really needs to be backed up with some scientific analysis," he said.

"We need to know what the consequences of taking [that much] water from natural flows will be."

"My question [to the government] is how do you ensure that you're not over-extracting from coastal rivers to a point where people and farmers downstream are going to have a worse situation than they've currently got?"

Ms Pavey said landholders will have to consult their local councils and submit development applications to build more dams on their property.

"If we have any concerns about the impact that would have on water flowing to town water supplies that's where those conversations will take place," she said.

Ms Pavey said the state government will be undertaking detailed assessments of each individual coastal catchment over the next year to confirm the new limit is appropriate at a local level.


Methane approach could 'isolate' Australia

Farts and burps from Australia's large beef herds emit lots of methane. So how do you stop that? Decimate the cattle herds??

Australia's stance on methane emissions is likely to see it isolated from other nations at the upcoming Glasgow climate summit, experts warn.

The federal government fears methane targets may require "culling herd sizes" of livestock.© Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS The federal government fears methane targets may require "culling herd sizes" of livestock.

The federal government fears that cutting methane emissions 30 per cent by 2030 - in line with a new global target - would threaten the nation's gas and coal sectors, and require "culling herd sizes" of methane-belching livestock.

Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said technologies that have the potential to reduce methane emissions from agriculture "are still in the very early stages of development".

"We are investing in things like soil carbon and livestock feed technologies, and if farmers want to adopt them, we will support that," he said in a statement to AAP on Thursday.

More than 30 countries led by the European Union and US have signed the Global Methane Pledge to slash emissions of the greenhouse gas, which is some 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

University of Sydney decarbonisation expert Jun Huang said Australia's refusal to meet the 2030 target is "simply a bad decision".

"It leaves Australia isolated - more and more countries are going to join, and if we don't it sends a negative signal to our partners we are working with on hydrogen and renewables," he said.

Countries to sign the pledge so far include the UK, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.

"The EU-US initiative has been positively received around the world, and we look forward to working with Australia to further reduce methane emissions," an EU spokesperson told AAP.

Tony Wood, lead author of a Grattan Institute report on reducing agriculture emissions, warned that a failure to quickly reduce methane emissions could leave Australian farmers vulnerable to border tariffs and changing consumer trends about meat consumption.

"Angus Taylor is almost making it a badge of courage for Australians that we're going to eat more meat ... I'm not suggesting to close the meat industry, but we can't ignore from emissions from cattle," Mr Wood said.

The federal "net zero by 2050" plan to address methane emissions via low-emissions livestock feed to reduce cattle belching was challenging, as most Australian livestock grazed on open fields, he said.

About four per cent of Australia's cattle at any given moment are in feedlots where their diet can be easily controlled, according to the Australian Lot Feeders' Association.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said methane emission reduction targets were excluded from net zero by 2050 plans in order for the Nationals to back the federal government policy.

"The Nats were absolutely implicit that no deal would go forward that we would support unless it was absolutely categorically ruled out, and we got that," he said.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the government would look to reduce methane emissions by 80 per cent with new technologies at a future point in time.


PM Scott Morrison promises to protect coal mining jobs

Coal miners will not be legislated “out of a job” under the Coalition’s plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050 through “ultra low cost” solar and the rapid commercialisation of new technologies.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally commited Australia to the climate target on Tuesday, drawing a line under the intense debate and bitter disagreement within the federal government on net-zero.

“(The plan) will not shut down our coal and gas production or exports,” Mr Morrison said. “It will not increase electricity bills. It’s not a revolution, it’s a careful evolution.”

Mr Morrison said new modelling showed Australia was on track to reduce emissions by 30 to 35 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 – far above the government’s 26 to 28 per cent interim target.

The commitment also came with a guarantee every Australian would be $2000 better off in 2050 than they would have been if no climate action was taken, and the regions would gain an extra 62,000 jobs in the heavy industry and mining sectors.

Mr Morrison did not present the modelling behind the plan, instead saying it was to be released at a later date.

The $20bn technology roadmap to get to net zero emissions by 2050 relied on emerging technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture and storage becoming viable.

Regional NSW was central to the net-zero plan, with areas like the Hunter Valley identified as a site for “further indirect job opportunities” including manufacturing of wind turbines and hydrogen electrolysers.

The Hunter could also benefit from “value-adding manufacturing” like the production and export of green ammonia and hot briquette iron.

“The construction boom associated with new renewable energy generation to support hydrogen production could support up to 13,000 new, permanent jobs by 2050 across Australia, especially in regional NSW and Queensland,” the government’s report said.

The PM said investing in technology would also enable Australia to help other major polluters reduce emissions, which was critical to limiting global temperature increase.

“If you really want to deal with this problem, it’s not good enough to tax people in developed countries and think that fixes the problem,” Mr Morrison said. “China’s emissions will keep going up. If we want to solve the problem, then you need scale, afforable, low emissions technologies.”

Under the plan a “significant proportion of gas” would still be needed by 2050, while all energy technology options remained on the table, including small-scale nuclear reactors.

It is expected electric cars would reach cost-parity with petrol vehicles by 2025, with the gradual take up potentially delivering a 15 per cent emissions cut.

Exports of critical minerals could be worth $85bn in 2050, up from $12bn, helping offset a 35 per cent decline in fossil fuel production.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told parliament regional jobs would not be destroyed by government laws. “I am making absolutely certain that we don’t legislate the coal miners out of a job,” he said.


Pauline Hanson claims credit for Coalition’s controversial voter ID laws

One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, has claimed credit for the Coalition’s voter integrity bill, saying she made voter identification a condition for her support on another electoral bill.

Hanson told Guardian Australia on Thursday she had “had a gutful” of the Morrison government taking credit for her ideas and the voter ID bill “wouldn’t be happening without me”.

The comments come as the Centre Alliance party offered the Coalition a pathway to pass the controversial laws, with Senator Stirling Griff saying he is “generally supportive” of an ID requirement.

Griff told Guardian Australia that although his party hasn’t decided its position, he “understands the need for ID” but may seek some accommodation for Indigenous Australians and other groups for whom the bill could impose a hurdle to voting.

The voter integrity bill, which passed the Coalition party room on Tuesday, was introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

It prompted fury from Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, who unsuccessfully moved a suspension of standing orders for a motion accusing the government of seeking to “undermine our strong democracy and deny Australians their basic democratic rights”.

Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Thursday voter ID was “not an earth-shattering proposal” and is “standard practice in liberal democracies” around the world.

He noted the electoral committee had recommended it after the 2013, 2016 and 2019 elections. Morrison claimed “not one vote will be lost” due to the ability to cast a declaration vote.

Voter ID laws have been on the Coalition wishlist for the last three terms of parliament, but the government did not introduce a bill to give effect to the recommendation from the joint standing committee on electoral matters (Jscem). Hanson said they had been “bloody lazy”.

The Australian electoral commissioner, Tom Rogers, has said the evidence of multiple voting is “vanishingly small”.

After defeating a Labor motion to delay debate until 2023, the government will have two weeks to pass the proposal in the November sitting period before an election is expected to be called in early 2022.

Labor and the Greens have accused the Coalition of seeking to import US-style voter suppression.

Under the proposed voter integrity bill, a voter unable to produce ID can still vote if their identity can be verified by another voter, or by casting a declaration vote, which requires further details such as date of birth and a signature.

Given One Nation’s support for the laws, the government will need one vote out of the remaining crossbench senators – Griff, Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie – to pass the bill.

Griff told Guardian Australia his party had received the bill but is yet to be briefed by Morton or decide its position. “I’m generally supportive of having ID … I understand the need for ID,” he said.

Griff noted Rogers evidence about the rarity of multiple voting but said one “has to wonder” if the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is detecting all instances of electoral fraud.

Griff cited his personal knowledge of one elderly person with dementia who “voted five times in a row” and received a “please explain” letter but no further action was taken.

He acknowledged that disfranchisement of Indigenous people was a “key issue” for those expressing concern about the bill, suggesting that there “might be issues we need to deal with for certain groups” to ensure a “positive solution for everyone”.

On Tuesday evening the finance minister, Simon Birmingham, defended the government’s proposal as a means to “further enhance integrity” and public confidence.

Birmingham told Senate estimates the bill would help eliminate “actual areas of risk and perceived areas of risk” such as multiple voting or fraudulent voting in the name of deceased people.




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