Environment's new man: Bob Baldwin

18 Jan, 2015 03:00 AM
Bob Baldwin MP (left) and Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Photo: Max Mason-Hubers
I’m assured by irrigators that Bob will do his very best to ensure that their future is very good
Bob Baldwin MP (left) and Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Photo: Max Mason-Hubers

NEWLY appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment, NSW Liberal MP Bob Baldwin, must now unite the rural and environment sectors, particularly in his key role of implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

In his maiden speech to federal parliament in May 1996, Mr Baldwin outlined concerns for a range of farming and rural industries in his electorate, and also demonstrated a hint of panache.

He read a verse from the popular poem, “My Country” written by poet Dorothea Mackellar in 1908 to describe a part of his electorate, including ventilating the line, “I love a sunburnt country”.

“It saddens me to see the environmental vandalism that occurs from the burning of waste timber that could be used as woodchips to help small towns and our national debt - all because previous governments would not listen to the very people who knew the industry ... who are from generations of loggers, people who have timber in their blood and in a responsible fashion make it their livelihood,” he said.

“I am personally committed to working with the local timber industry and achieving a win-win situation for all sides.”

In the speech, Mr Baldwin – who turns 60 this year - also warned about risks to the chicken trade and the local environment from a biosecurity concern he held at the time.

“Within Paterson, chicken farming outranks all comers - dairy production and cattle included - as our biggest rural income earner,” he said.

“In light of the recommendation by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to lift the import ban on cooked chicken, I have to say I am saddling up with my local chicken growers to challenge this view.

“Disease knows no barriers of State borders or livestock crossings.

“As we seek to establish ourselves as the food bowl to Asia and increasingly the wider Western world, I owe it to my rural producers, their work force and their families that our primary industry sector sustains the premium price in the market place for the produce which disease-free food carries.”

Despite winning the seat in 1996, Mr Baldwin was defeated by Labor’s Bob Horne in 1998, before reclaiming the electorate in 2001 which he’s held ever since.

At the 2013 federal election, Mr Baldwin increased his margin by 4.5 per cent over Labor in the seat, which was previously considered marginal for the Liberals.

The Australian Electoral (AEC) commission says the seat was also named after another famous Australian poet and author, Andrew 'Banjo' Paterson.

But the AEC said there was also “conjecture” that the division was first named in 1947 after Colonel William Paterson after whom the town and river within the division were named.

In his 1996 maiden speech, Mr Baldwin also referred to Sir Allen Fairhall - the first member for Paterson - who gave his inaugural address in 1950.

“He spoke of the honour of representing some of Australia's most rich and fertile lands and pay dirt,” Mr Baldwin said.

“However, he made it clear there was also a heavy toll to be paid.

“He said, ‘soil erosion is taking its toll. The rivers are silting up, and can no longer drain off all the water that falls in the catchment area. At present there is much wasted effort in our attempts to cope with erosion, the rabbit pest, failing soil fertility and the decaying mineral content of the soil’.

“The burden we threaten to leave our children and our children's children if we continue to not so much neglect but pass up an opportunity to revitalise, clean up and adequately resource our local environment will be a great one.

“The price paid will be our nation's loss.

“Finally, at the end of the day if I can be remembered for one contribution to this House I would want it to be that I was part of the team that helped turn the ship around; to steer a new course towards the nation's salvation.”

Riverina Nationals MP Michael McCormack – who has raised ongoing concerns about the potentially negative social and economic impacts of the Basin Plan on rural communities - said he was prepared to give Mr Baldwin a fair go in his new Parliamentary Secretary role.

However, Mr McCormack said most of his constituents would want Mr Baldwin to remember that while water may come under environment, in the federal government’s bureaucratic structures it remained essential to the life-blood of farming production that underpins rural communities.

He said Mr Baldwin had shown, in previous portfolio areas of tourism and more recently in industry, that’s he’s been “very capable”.

“Bob is a bloke I know who will hit the ground running,” he said.

“I’ve already spoken to him a couple of times about water and the importance of water for production not just the environment.

“Water is the lifeblood of all those river towns and communities in the Murray-Darling Basin and just because it falls within the Environment Department that doesn’t mean it’s all about the environment.

“I’m assured by irrigators that Bob will do his very best to ensure that their future is very good.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media


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Correct Jock. Selling what you don't already have is the biggest con ever introduced to
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When good systems do not deliver, "wheat grower for 53 years", it is caused by either the
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Totally agree "Wheat grower" , growers need to step up and elect a professional board who are