• Written by Tanya M Howard, Senior research fellow, University of New England
Left, farmer Ian Turnbull being who was convicted of murdering compliance officer Glen Turner. Right, Mr Turner's partner Alison McKenzie outside court. Tensions over land clearing can have tragic consequences. AAP/DAN HIMBRECHTS

It’s five years since government worker Glen Turner was murdered by a farmer in a confrontation over land clearing laws. Media reporting after his death frequently propagated the image of the “poor farmer” at the mercy of laws enforced by out-of-touch city elites.

This narrative of an urban-rural divide reared its head again in recent days, when Nationals leader Michael McCormack derided “inner-city raving lunatics” who linked the bushfire crisis to climate change. Such rhetoric may appeal to a conservative party base or media audience, but does little for rural communities in the long run.

As farmers face the ever-worsening impacts of drought and climate change, strong environmental protections are required to protect water and other resources. We must better understand how divisive narratives, often serving political interests, are devised and dispersed.

Nowhere is this narrative more frequently rolled out than in northwest New South Wales, where tensions over land clearing have triggered a complex interplay between the media, farmers and politicians - fuelled by the tragedy of Turner’s murder.

Sheep graze on mostly cleared land near Hay, New South Wales. Dean Lewins/AAP

Land clearing is a hot-button issue

Land clearing is a serious global environmental concern, and eastern Australia is one of the world’s deforestation hotspots.

However, regulations to limit land clearing have long been opposed by farmers who say they affect profitability. This message has been politically potent in NSW, and in 2016 legislative reform removed key checks on native vegetation clearing.

À lire aussi : Our nature laws are being overhauled. Here are 7 things we must fix

In the state’s northwest, native vegetation and koala habitat is at risk of extinction due to land clearing. Broad-acre farm machinery and technology works best in large, flat paddocks uninterrupted by trees. The high costs of these technologies feed the economic pressure to cultivate increasing areas of land.

But as climate change and drought increasingly bring dust storms, bushfires and water shortages to rural areas, natural resources such as water, soil and vegetation have never been more valuable.

A dead koala outside Ipswich in 2017. Conservationists attributed the death to land clearing. JIM DODRILL/THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY

Latte sippers vs poor farmers

Turner’s murder by farmer Ian Turnbull occurred at Coppa Creek in northwest NSW, in the shadow of pending reforms to environment laws. In the days afterwards, rural politicians publicly expressed outrage at land-clearing regulations and claimed Turner’s death was “brought about by bad legislation”.

Media reports in the period between the murder and Turnbull’s sentencing were essentially a de facto trial of the legitimacy of land-clearing laws. Several sources implied that the compliance regime was somehow to blame for Turner’s death. These results supported findings by Amnesty International and Global Witness that weak enforcement of environmental law increases the risks to those who work on the frontline of land-use conflicts.

Murdered compliance officer Glen Turner. Supplied by family

The media narrative fed on a supposed contest between biodiversity and agricultural production. Some coverage drew on libertarian notions of property rights and autonomy to justify resistance to the law. This includes radio broadcaster Alan Jones, who reportedly told listeners that environment officials enforcing native vegetation laws displayed “the kind of behaviour that leads people to murder”.

A complicit media

In recent months, landholders in northwest NSW engaged a public relations company to launch a campaign to have historic land-clearing charges dropped.

The PR onslaught included recruiting 2GB radio presenter Ben Fordham to the cause and lobbying key NSW National Party figures John Barilaro and Adam Marshall.

In July this year, Fordham said struggling farmers penalised for cleared vegetation on their farms were being forced off their land, reportedly telling listeners:

They are facing the prospect of fines of a million dollars, and having land locked up for 100 years. They face fines of A$13,000 for every day they refuse to answer questions. Talk about bullies!

The state government has since announced an amnesty for hundreds of farmers who faced penalties under old land-clearing laws. It is logical to assume the farmers’ campaign, and its emphasis on city-country tensions, influenced the government’s decision.

But the divisive rhetoric, and the resulting government decision, do not serve farming communities and come at the cost of a sound balance between production and conservation.

A chain used for land clearing is dragged over a pile of burning wood on a Queensland property. Dan Peled/AAP

We must do better

Better understanding of how narratives of legitimacy and resistance are constructed is important for environmental policymakers around the world. This is especially true as climate change threatens social and economic conditions.

Rural communities need environmental regulation that acknowledges their existential concerns, such as access to water, arable land and economic markets. The broader Australian public need regulation that finds the best balance between production and environmental values.

À lire aussi : Environment laws have failed to tackle the extinction emergency. Here's the proof

In 1992, state and federal governments committed to a national strategy for ecologically sustainable development that “improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends”.

We aren’t there yet. Political will can either help achieve these aims, or obstruct progress by stoking city-country tensions.

Note: A coronial inquest into the circumstance surrounding the death of Glen Turner was announced in 2017 but is yet to be held.

Tanya M Howard has received funding from the Australian Research Council, the Invasive Animals CRC and the Bushfires and Natural Hazards CRC. She is an incoming Board member with the International Association for Society and Natural Resources.

Authors: Tanya M Howard, Senior research fellow, University of New England

Read more http://theconversation.com/farmers-murder-and-the-media-getting-to-the-bottom-of-the-city-country-divide-125735

All You Need to Know About Trenchless Technology

For many years, the traditional sewerage lines and pipe developments were not enough due to the long wait and cracking. The traditional sewer pipe repairs involved cracking the earth to find the par...

News Company - avatar News Company

Before we rush to rebuild after fires, we need to think about where and how

A primary school in East Gippsland was burnt down in the current bushfire crisis. While Premier Daniel Andrews immediately committed to rebuilding the school as it was, media reported the local CFA ca...

Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle - avatar Mark Maund, PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle

Australian sea lions are declining. Using drones to check their health can help us understand why

Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) are one of the rarest pinnipeds in the world and they are declining. Jarrod Hodgson, CC BY-NDAustralian sea lions are in trouble. Their population has never rec...

Jarrod Hodgson, PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide - avatar Jarrod Hodgson, PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide

With costs approaching $100 billion, the fires are Australia's costliest natural disaster

It’s hard to estimate the eventual economic cost of Australia’s 2019-20 megafires, partly because they are still underway, and partly because it is hard to know the cost to attribute to de...

Paul Read, Climate Criminologist & Senior Instructor/Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University - avatar Paul Read, Climate Criminologist & Senior Instructor/Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University

In cases of cardiac arrest, time is everything. Community responders can save lives

Cardiac arrest can occur with little or no warning in people who were previously healthy, including young people. From shutterstock.comEach year more than 24,000 Australians experience a sudden cardia...

Bill Lord, Adjunct Associate Professor, Monash University - avatar Bill Lord, Adjunct Associate Professor, Monash University

So the government gave sports grants to marginal seats. What happens now?

When Australians pay their income tax, they assume the money is going to areas of the community that need it, rather than being used by the government to shore up votes for the next election. This is...

Maria O'Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University - avatar Maria O'Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

The Olympics have always been a platform for protest. Banning hand gestures and kneeling ignores their history

It is the year of the Tokyo Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee was quickly out of the blocks with new guidelines regarding athlete protests. The IOC is worried the biggest stories of...

David Rowe, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Research, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University - avatar David Rowe, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Research, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Where Can You Get Weed By Ordering It Online?

Nowadays, everyone wants to get their hands on some weed. Marijuana has become legalized in a lot of countries worldwide. People wait in lines for days to buy some. You couldn’t have imagined that...

News Company - avatar News Company

Hidden women of history: Catherine Hay Thomson, the Australian undercover journalist who went inside asylums and hospitals

Catherine Hay Thomson went undercover as an assistant nurse for her series on conditions at Melbourne Hospital. A. J. Campbell Collection/National Library of AustraliaIn this series, we look at under...

Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW - avatar Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company