First or Second Best Solutions? Looking back on Australian Agri-Environmental Policy from 2020

Drawing on statements emerging from Europe and North America, what might an economic historian write about agri-environmental policy in 2020? Reflecting on the last 20 years, the historian might report • The emergence of environmental assurance systems as a way to gain access to international markets; • The emergence of environmental NGOs as sought-after drivers of agricultural - not environmental - policy; • The major international debate about the extent of Australian agricultural subsidies and European insistence that Australian agricultural externalities, because of failure to internalise environmental externalities, was one of the most subsidised agricultural industries in the world; • The embarrassing flaw that emerged in national “cost-sharing” and “investment-sharing” policies; • The impact of a series of AARES papers that led to the introduction of rural landscape stewardship payments and the removal of 50% of the Australian agricultural and pastoral landscape from production; • A change in COAG focus from water allocation to water quality and the impact of agriculture practices on other sectors; • The mess we ended up in because we granted the environment an absolute rather than prior right in the definition of water rights, fishing rights and pollution rights; • The huge “Kyoto” debates we had when NFF suddenly realised that greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture were greater than those from the transport industry; • The rediscovery of regulation as the most cost-effective way to manage catchment scale problems not efficiently internalised through paddock scale farm management; • The impacts of the national attempt to define duty of care for each industry and each region which emerged from the National Land and Water Resources Audit’s findings; and • The re-emergence of tax policy as a vehicle for delivery of incentives to the farm industry. In short, the two decades from 2000 to 2020 were the decades when agri-politicians became environmental spokespeople. A footnote on page 10 of the economic historian’s paper observed some new institutional and academic arrangements. In the “now” leading universities, faculties were organised along trans-disciplinary lines. AARES had merged with several other societies. In 2020, it was no longer possible to obtain a B. Ag. Ec. from an Australasian University.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-27

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