The political and legal environments after climate, are the most important outside environment affecting the farm system. There are a myriad of acts and regulations at all levels of government which directly and indirectly affect the farm system. However, not all have a negative impact, some, such as the various agricultural boards assist the
primary producer by way of research, industry rationalisation, provision of facilities and marketing of the product. The following is a summary only of all the various and relevant bodies. Some state examples are provided but generally, there is complementary legislation in all the other states.


The international nature of Australia's commodity rural markets has required government, particularly Federal Government, involvement The most fundamental and difficult problems relate to questions of price and access to overseas markets.


It is the inherent nature of primary production that there are problems of wide price fluctuations and the general level of return to producers.


International trade raises the problem of proliferation of virtually unscaleable trade barriers against traditional efficient exporters of agricultural products. This problem applies particularly to Australia and Argentina. International attempts to overcome these problems have led to a number of international trade forums.


Problems include the encouragement of production, unreasonably high support programs, the availability in some countries of excessive export subsidies, disruption of commercial markets by uncoordinated gifts of surplus production (this factor applies particularly to the USA) and competition between natural products and synthetic substitutes.


This is the best known international forum for international trade discussions. The main objectives of GATT have been to maximise opportunities for trade through reductions in tariffs and other trade barriers.

These involve very difficult and complex negotiations and generally, have failed to produce any real solutions to the problems confronting world trade in agricultural products. However, Australia accepts GATT as the main forum in which international action for the reduction of trade barriers can be pursued. That is it is a very useful international sounding board.


Australia is also an active member of UNCTAD. This organisation is primarily concerned with tropical agricultural products such as pineapples, sugar cane, bananas and rice, certain minerals and the competition between natural products and synthetic substitutes.


This is another UN organisation. It is concerned with trade in agricultural products and the promotion of better agricultural methods (known as the "green revolution" in developing countries). One of it's major contributions has been the establishment of rules of conduct pertaining to the surplus disposal of agricultural products. That is, controls on "dumping". The FAO guidelines have until recently, restrained countries from disruptive disposals of surpluses and thereby contributed to the orderly marketing of many primary commodities.


Although the above forums are important sounding boards for the airing of grievances, Australia has found it necessary to try and overcome problems of particular commodities on an individual basis. The results of such conferences has resulted in a number of international agreements.

International commodity agreements aim to stabilise international trade in that commodity by the application of price or export regulations. Such regulations can be quantitative controls, regulation of sales within a minimum and maximum price range, or orderly marketing arrangements. These are not easily negotiated. The most important commodity agreements cover the following commodities:


The international wheat agreements are in the form of "multilateral contracts" establishing a price range for commercial transactions. The agreements contain an undertaking by exporters to supply the commercial requirements of importers at prices within the range and a corresponding commitment by importers to purchase from exporting members a certain proportion of their total commercial purchases at prices within the range.

Current world trade in wheat and wheat flour is regulated by the International Grains Arrangement (IGA). The successive arrangements regulating international trade in grains have undoubtedly contributed to the stability of world trade in these commodities. While certain difficulties have been experienced in the operation of the current IGA,
prices overall have been better than they would have been in the absence of an agreement.


World trade in sugar is regulated by a number of bilateral and multilateral agreements. The main agreements affecting Australian exports of sugar is the International Sugar Agreement.

Typically, the agreement provides for controls on the amount of sugar entering the free market by allocating Basic Export Tonnages to the individual exporting countries.


International trade in meat has not been brought within the framework of any comprehensive international commodity agreement that is, basically, a free market. However, Australia has negotiated important bilateral arrangements on meat with the EEC and the USA.

Such arrangements have an important and lasting effect on Australia's
beef production since WW2. However, the US agreement is continually under pressure from the powerful US cattle interest lobby groups. Japan has taken increased quantities of Australian meat in recent years There is no quantitative restriction on the level of imports of sheepmeats but access for beef and veal is subject to annual quotas.


The EEC is Australia's largest and most lucrative market for butter and after Japan, for cheese. The Asian countries offer the greatest potential for market growth





In Australia as with most other advanced economies the Federal government has assumed to an unprecedented degree, responsibility for the functioning and welfare of the economy in general, and agriculture in particular. Certain characteristics of farming gives rise to greater government involvement than for other sectors of the economy.


The small scale competitive structure of farming means that the government must organize research, quarantine and promotion activities. Another factor is the instability of farming in terms of both price and production.


This factor has led to expenditures on drought relief and to the establishment of stabilization schemes for a number of industries. Further, adjustment to changing economic difficulties often pose great difficulties for the rural producer.


A change of occupation usually implies a change of residence. This has given rise to government sponsored reconstruction schemes.

There has been a steady increase in the total levels of government financial assistance to the rural sector over the last 15 years. The attached list covers the measures of Australian Government assistance.


This covers expenditure on research and extension, on disease control and quarantine expenditure, on overseas promotion, export inspection, and industry reconstruction. Expenditures in these areas have increased substantially and now account for more than 30% of the Australian Government's assistance to agriculture.

Reconstruction and research are responsible for the bulk of this expenditure. Reconstruction funds are almost wholly loans rather than grants to the farming sector.


Expenditure on infrastructure includes expenditure on irrigation and water supply projects, on beef cattle roads, and brigalow land development. Part of this expenditure especially in the 1960s, was in the form of loans. This group accounts for about 5% of the total Australian government rural appropriations. However, the ratio has fallen over the last decade.


Under this heading are:


Payments made to various farm groups after the British devaluation and
resultant reduction in the returns received by Australian rural exporters. Total government expenditures under this headings have been highly variable as 1 and 2 depend upon occasional happenings.

Drought relief expenditures have been partly in the form of grants and partly in the form of loans, with the latter accounting for about 40% of government expenditure on drought relief.


This item includes expenses of various national marketing boards, advances of working capital to the Australian Wool Commission, and grants to canning factories. The sums involved are small being only about 1-2% of total assistance to the rural industry.


There are 2 types of assistance under this heading:

Of these the wheat stabilization scheme is by far the most important and the oldest. In the early postwar period, the wheat growers made substantial payments into the stabilization fund but the Australian Government's contribution has tended to rise over the years. Total direct assistance represents about 30% of total government grants to the agricultural industries.


These are subsidies to reduce the price of agricultural inputs. In the past it well represented by subsidies on both phosphatic and nitrogenous fertilizers.


Included in this group are a range of tax concessions to rural producers including investment allowances, accelerated depreciation allowances, property tax relief and the deductibility of certain types of capital expenditure.


The primary producer or rural land user is generally, subject to a greater number of government statutory controls than other land users. This is because:

Therefore, the rural valuer has to have a very broad ranging knowledge of primary industries and not just a "stand back" overview of controls as in urban valuations. Controls on primary production vary from state to state.


No GST is paid on the purchase of a farm so long as the original rural use will continue to be pursued by the new owner.

See rural statutory controls – south australia



The management of agricultural lands throughout Australia has been a complex combination of "law", "economics", "science" and "values". However, the starting point should be "values" as generally, the law is a result of society's value consensus or psyche. Australians have had an ambivalent attitude to land management. On the one hand they have allowed almost total laissez faire land use of the better agricultural regions of Australia but have, since the turn of the century, been greatly concerned with the degradation of pastoral lands - see NSW Royal Commission, 1901. That is, society's "values" have treated the arid regions with greater respect, awe and reverence than that
accorded to the better agriculture regions.

In general terms the Soil Conservation and Land Care Act 1989 (SA) ( the Soil Act), and the Pastoral Land Management Act 1989 (SA (the Pastoral Act) have as their objects a statement of a preferred human relationship with the land and its soil, vegetation and water.

The relationship or ethic contains many constituent parts including the need to recognise past degrading land use practices, that such practices are no longer acceptable, the present importance of land and that the land must be conserved for the benefit of the people of the state - s6, Soil Act, s4, Pastoral Act. However, all land management legislation should include in their objectives the prevention of land being used beyond sustainability and the restoration of degraded land. Both acts provide for this in their "objects and duties" and include the good management practice of "feedback" by requiring the monitoring of the acts' progress over time.

However, neither "sustainable use" nor "capability" is defined even though both are central to the acts. The definition of "capability" in the Soil Conservation Act is a good definition and should be used in the Pastoral Act. "Degradation" as defined in the Pastoral Act has a more appropriate wide meaning as it includes not only soil – s3 Pastoral Act. The general thrust of both acts is that land must be seen not as the sole domain of the landowner but as a resource belonging to the public "at large". It is not a right or interest in the classical sense but a duty or responsibility to the land.



It is arguable that a "conservation ethic" that underpins both acts, more so than any scientific, economic or legal basis particularly; the Soil Act.

"Values" refers to beliefs held by an individual or group of individuals particularly relating to land use. It refers to how a landowner perceives his/her activities in relation to the past, present and future uses of the land. If an abstract model can be considered, values would be the rationale behind all decisions if no institutional or external constraints existed.

Values are an important part of achieving the objects of the acts. For example, object s6(a), Soil Act and s4(a) Pastoral Act are values as they merely state that land must be seen as a crucial natural resource. Similarly objects ss6(b) and (c), Soil Act and ss4(b) and (c), Pastoral Act are concerned with recognition of past and future degrading activities and which obviously, requires appropriate values. Although both acts assume "values", it is clear that legislation relying solely on such values would be useless.


If the respective acts "ended" at s6, and s4 they would have little substantive or practical effect. This is due to the fact that values are not the sole determinant of behaviours, as has been pointed out in relation to land use practices.

We do not live in an ideal world and empirical evidence such as CSIRO's rangeland research has shown that landowner attitudes do not determine behaviour relating to the land. Values are a vital part of the operation of land care legislation due to the nature of our democratic system. However, as many researchers have shown, landowners with
near uniformity espouse a conservation ethic and have done so for decades yet have continued (and may well continue) to pursue unacceptable land care practices (Lovejay and Napier, 1987).

The Soil Act provides a clear example of the use of values as a basis for land management. The Pastoral Act mirrors this reliance but to a lesser extent. In terms of the actual practical operation of the Soil Act, the reliance on values may be classified as follows:


Emphasises the need for community involvement. The Soil Act relies more on this than the Pastoral Act. For example, the composition of the Soil Council (s14) comprises a diverse group of people including farmers, environmentalists, ecologists and academics and therefore,
is supposed to reflect diverse concerns.


S8, Soil Act and s7, Pastoral Act states that there is a general duty to the land owed by all landowners including the Crown. Note that it is THE land, not THEIR land. S43(1) and 45(3), Soil Act and s43 Pastoral
Act ("destocking orders") strengthens this duty by providing that soil conservation orders and voluntary properly plans run with the land against all successors in title. This effectively quashes any idea that landowners and pastoralists have absolute control over land upon reception of legal title.


This refers to the idea that legal enforcement must be utilized only as a last resort and is paramount in the Soil Act but not in the Pastoral Act. S13, Soil Act states that the Minister may either aid landowners in conservation programs (financial aid) or else help in the actual carrying out of the program(s). S22(3) requires the Soil Council to consult with local landowners and local government prior to any recommendations to the Minister.

The above provisions make it clear that the aim of the Soil Act is cooperation between administrators and landowners, to have landowners accept the underlying ethic without legal compulsion.


The Royal Commission (NSW) and inquiries (SA and NSW) into pastoral land management resulted in legal controls on pastoral lands use. The two most important controls are the allowance of leaseholds only and limitations on stock carrying capacities. However, the question arises whether or not law can effectively determine land use. Research would tend to indicate "yes, as there is a clear difference between pastoral land uses on the South Australian side of the border compared to the NSW side (Young, 1979).

The NSW side is much more intensively developed and has been more subject to overstocking and subsequent degradation caused largely by the smaller holdings in the Western Division of NSW through the use of the home maintenance area concept.

Law cannot "create" a value acceptable to the general community. It may force people to respect a principle by threat of retribution, yet this is not a value in the sense that it is held by a majority of the community voluntarily. Rather, law is designed primarily to regulate behaviour by various means for example, economic incentives. The nature of
state legislative power is that it may "define" those values upon enactment of law .

This is clearly a role that has a great deal of relevance in relation to soil degradation. Law cannot create a soil conservation ethic but it can (and should) develop that pre-existing ethic by definition of its content, prioritising its importance and most importantly, requiring that behaviour accompanying the ethic.


The use of economics as a tool of environmental protection assumes that certain environmentally unsound activities can only be conducted at the economic cost to the landowner. For example, a farmer may overcrop his /her land only if he/she is willing to pay extra costs to do so. Economic theory presupposes the ability to price and the landowner paying the price to treat the problem. However, this approach fails to recognise a number of important points:

Neither act relies on economic regulation to any real extent for example, there is no significant reliance on "degradation taxes" or other financial incentives not to degrade the land. The definition of "capability" in s3, Soil Act mentions the "future productivity" of the land implying that land quality does depend to a small degree on economic measures of output. S13 empowers the Minister to give financial assistance to landowners in the carrying out of conservation programs, this being the clearest example of the use of economic incentives in that Act.

Economics also relates to "penalties" for non compliance with district property plans and voluntary property plans (Soil Act) and farm plans (Pastoral Act). Neither contain any specific provision for penalty in relation to non compliance of the plans and would therefore appear to rely on some notion of market forces dictating the manner in which
landowners will be penalised for non-compliance. The implicit idea is that it is in the landowner's best economic interest to comply with district and property plans.

However, under the Pastoral Act there are strong controls on the future terms and conditions of leases which can be used as a penalty for non compliance on renewal or 'rollover" of the lease term every 14 years ss22, 26 and 19. It is preferable to ensure compliance with such plans by way of specific penalties rather than to assume some form of "market penalty" or the variation of lease terms . The idea that the market will correct such failures by landowners is clearly open to question, the most dangerous potential consequence being further land degradation.


The rent being paid for a pastoral lease should be a true market rent and not a subsidised rent. Good land management dictates that a true price be paid for public resources particularly in the case of pastoral lands, where there are now a number of competing land uses.

The practical method now being used by the department in determining rent results in a rent which is far too low, less than market rent, and as well the lessee enjoys payment in arrears - s22. The user of public resources should pay the full price for the use of that land and therefore, the rent should be a straight market rent.


A clear definition of '"science" is required. In so far as science refers to the scientific method and Newtonian mechanics, then it cannot be used as a basis of controlling and preventing land degradation. The reason is that such an approach presupposes the divisibility of the problem of land degradation into distinct constitute parts, each of which is open to investigation and ultimate solution. This ignores the complexity and interdependence of the natural environment. This Newtonian approach also leads to the humanist assumption that individual problems will be solved by human technology.

The better definition of science is that which sees it not as method but as embodying a set of virtues including objectivity, selflessness, intellectual honesty and openness of mind . In this sense science has a valuable part to play in achieving the objects of both acts, especially pertaining to s6(d) (Soil Act) and ss 6, 41, 44 Pastoral Act providing for a
system of land degradation inquiry and monitoring.

Such provisions similarly presuppose some scientific inquiry. It is to be noted that the reliance on science in the Soil Act is not as explicit as in the Pastoral Act. S6, Pastoral Act refers to the use of scientific principles in relation to pastoral lands but without defining "scientific'. For reasons stated above, it is submitted that this should be seen as
referring to the virtues of science as enabling a proper investigation of the problem.

The limitation of science here is that it should been seen as embodying the virtues of inquiry into the land degradation problem and possibly considering available ways of reducing further degradation yet should not be seen as providing the ultimate solution to land degradation. Human behaviour existed prior to land degradation and human behaviour will be the only sure way of aiding the rehabilitation of land.


The Pastoral and Soil Acts make interesting comparison in that the Pastoral Act basically, uses compulsion to achieve it's objectives whereas the Soil Act uses encouragement. It is the role of law that has often been the most contentious issue in environmental protection generally. Some have argued that law should not play a major part in land degradation programs due to a number of reasons:

These reasons basically underpin the voluntary approach to land degradation issues in the post World War II era. The fact that the problem is still with us reflects the failure of the voluntary/educational approach and the dubious nature of the underlying rationale.

Under the specific objects of the acts law does have a role to play. For example, objects ss6(a) and (b) Soil Act, dealing with recognising the importance of land and the nature of past land use practices, require law to show that the State is exercising its power under a democratic mandate to declare certain practices unacceptable.

Overstocking of pastoral lands have-been recognised as a problem from the turn of the century for example, the NSW Royal Commission which lead to the Western Lands Act 1901. If pastoral lands are to be continued as a pastoral use compulsion or effective legal controls are necessary. Further powers are cancellation of lease' or the imposition of fines" in s37. However, the effect of s37 is somewhat mitigated by s39's "compensation" provisions.

Stocking rates are still the most important single control and is enforced under s43 notices to destock or take other action". However, 'values" and "economics' come into play in the form of enforcement of stocking rates because of the expense and difficulty of mustering all stock within a reasonable time, the necessary allowance of stocking rates over the recommended maximum because of seasonal factors, the mobility of stock today and that fact that most pastoralists run their pastoral lease

There are three important methods of land use control:


Freehold tenure could be allowed but with land control achieved by zonings and compulsory management plans similar to the Mount Lofty Ranges management plan. This option is not recommended because of the basic unsustainability of the region and leasehold tenure does tend to advertise that pastoral land uses are a privilege rather than a 'right'.


The concept of licensing the individual is a good concept. This would require the pastoralist and landowner to complete an appropriate course of instruction which could include new farming methods such as sustainable agriculture and perhaps require a certain amount of practical experience.


The law focuses on the activity rather than the person as direct regulation controls anybody engaged in the a particular land use.

This best describes the current focus of the acts but the strong wording and powers in the Pastoral Act are undermined by "value" that is, non enforcement. For example, there has been only one s43 notice to destock since the inception of the act .

In the western world where social and tribal mores are no longer applicable, the law is essential to modify behaviour. "..(L)aws tend to reflect rather than establish general social values" . The law is used to stimulate and guide social reform.

The pastoralists and landowners generally, are more concerned with property rights having little concern with competing uses such as recreation and tourism. Their main objective is to achieve freehold tenure with no land use control. Studies have shown a large gap in the values of the pastoralists and that of society.

Because there is such a gap it is necessary to have strong law and enforcement of society's values concerning particularly, arid lands. In recent years the "rules of the game" have changed and where before, the only persons interested in arid lands were pastoralists, today there are a large number of groups who have laid some claim to arid lands. In the Hopgood Report, 31 different bodies made representations concerning the pastoral lands which underlines the proposition that pastoral land uses today should be "multiple land uses".

Voluntary farm plans such as those promoted in the Soil Act lack coordination and expertise being merely a "vague moral obligation". On the other hand, the Pastoral Act is much more powerful. Once prepared, such plans must be followed by the pastoralist. Enforcement and control is obtained through the use of leasehold tenure with review of terms and conditions being largely subject to the success or not the farm management plan.


The two acts have different value and economic underpinnings which in turn, influences the type of law and enforcement provisions. The Pastoral Act is much more forceful than the Soil Act making compliance with the farm plans mandatory. The Soil Act on the other hand is basically, discretionary in both the operation and enforcement of farm plans. The Soil Act therefore, is less effective than the Pastoral Act and it is recommended that the law be made stronger by making farm plans compulsory for all landowners and effective penalties for non compliance.

The Pastoral Act has commendable flexibility in allowing and encouraging "multiple land uses" for example, "public access routes" in s45 and non pastoral activities when leases fail due for extension and variation - s25, s26.

See crown lands - queensland