The Land Restoration Imperative

Today I am travelling to Kioloa which is on the South Coast of NSW. I am to be part of a three-day “dialogue” on The Land Restoration Imperative in Australia. The immediate past Governor-General of Australia Major General Michael Jeffery has invited me to be part of a Task Force he is forming to pursue this issue. This is what it is about.

The meeting is being held on The Australian National University’s Coastal Campus at Kioloa, NSW which just happens to be near Bawley Point – some great surf!

The problems that the meeting is intending to discuss relate to pressing issues such as environmental degradation, climate change, soil carbon
sequestration, improved agricultural productivity and water conservation. In addition, there is a decline in social settlements in regional area that have seen the younger cohorts migrate to the big cities in search of the diminishing job opportunities.

The latter is not a recent happening. The migration has been occurring for years as failed macroeconomic policy has starved the country of jobs. Many country town in regional areas are fast becoming geriatric centres because only the older population remain and services dwindle.

Meanwhile modern farming techniques are degrading the landscape with artificial fertilisers and widespread land clearing making an increasing proportion of our arable land too salty and infertile to sustain production.

There is also a conservatism in the rural communities which predicate them against organic and natural farming methods. The meeting will focus on expanding our understanding of natural farming systems and to determine the best ways of working together to save the land from degradation.

My role is to develop green employment opportunities at decent pay and conditions for workers to work with the water and soil scientists to rehabilitate land. I see this as part of a Job Guarantee framework where skills development and secure employment is fostered. In our previous research at CofFEE we have investigated unmet need in the regional areas and estimate that hundreds of thousands of jobs can ultimately be supported in redressing these unmet needs.

The official pamphlet for the “dialogue” indicates the following:

We have invited a diverse group of 90 people representing farmers, academics, agribusiness practitioners and associates of the natural farming systems community. The contribution of everyone is important and we are pleased to have some well known conversation starters who are interested in attending, including:

• Major General Michael Jeffery, AC CVO MC
• Professor Will Steffen, Director, ANU Climate Change Institute
• Mr Marvin Weinman, Chairman of Outcomes Australia
• Professor Bill Mitchell Director, Centre of Full Employment and Equity, University of Newcastle
• Professor Tony McMichael National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, ANU
• Peter Andrews, author of Back from the Brink and Beyond the Brink

I will report back on what happens and how the formation of the Task Force takes shape.

I realise that this development is being promoted by conservative forces in Australian society. And clearly I would not be part of a group that saw this as an opportunity to get cheap labour on work-for-the-dole schemes in a regime of compliance and potential welfare benefit loss.

In my discussions with the convenor Michael Jeffery (the former Governor-General) and Peter Andrews, who has developed Natural Sequence Farming, I assess that he and other members of the Task Force are committed to two things that are central to my research and activism: (a) natural farming methods including permaculture; and (b) full employment where everyone has a job with decent pay and conditions.

I was asked today whether I thought a carrot or stick was necessary to get people to work. I replied – a nice carrot!

I am reminded of the words of Arthur J. Altmeyer, who was the Chairman of the US Social Security Board from 1937 to 1946, and a member of it from 1935. He was also Commissioner for US Social Security from 1946 to 1953. He was also a conservative but not a neo-liberal.

He said:

Clearly, social security substitutes hopes for fears. There are those among us who trust neither human nature nor democratic government; and who ten years ago believed that to cut down fear of losing a job as a motive force among men, would lead to a nation of loafers. There are those of us who do trust both human nature and democracy and hence believed that it is hope, not fear, that leads to high endeavor.

I think they are powerful words and I think the people who will be presenting at the meeting this weekend share that vision.

I was asked today also about the fact that I probably have very different views on social policy than most of the group that will be assembled. No doubt that is true given public statements by some of the names I know off.

But we can disagree about what people do after work while agreeing wholeheartedly that everyone should be able to work and if the private sector doesn’t create enough decent jobs then the public sector has to.

We can also agree that permaculture and natural farming methods are the only answer for the future.

The leaders of this group have obvious influence in the top echelons of national government and I see it as a great opportunity to promote full employment even if the projects that are agreed as trials are relatively small in the number of overall jobs that can be created. Walk then run.

Some will say I am selling out mixing with this group. If they say that then the only other thing you know is that they don’t know me at all.

When you think about this week, The Greens are arguing that public deficits and debt are dangerous and the Labor Government is sitting back and watching the labour market continue to deteriorate, then where are the progressive elements in political life anyway?

I will report back.

Saturday and Sunday

Given I usually manage my blog with my mobile phone while I am away travelling and given that the location I will be at this weekend has no mobile phone coverage – yes, panic set in when I heard that – is this 2009? – the process of comment moderation may be delayed. There may be Internet access at the campus (it is an educational institutional after all) but there may not be. So if you have made a comment and it doesn’t seem to be showing it will definitely be moderated later Sunday.

The Saturday Quiz is back tomorrow and Sunday while I am away you will be treated by guest blogger Victor Quirk who has been delving into 1931 books and has some very interesting things to tell you about the way a particular economist was thinking in those day. Almost a precursor to modern monetary theory in some ways.

I will be back writing about something on Monday.

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