The Summerland Highway between Lismore and Grafton wends its way through plantations of pinus radiata and eucalyptus maculata, grandis and pilularis. These plantations have been predominantly owned and managed by State Forests but recently, a number of government incentives have made planting trees on private land commercially attractive. The latest is a tax break offered to plantation owners based on the carbon sequestered in the trees they grow.
Last week, the Nationals and the Greens moved in the Senate to overturn the tax rort that will see hundreds of thousands of acres on the northern rivers taken out of agricultural use and converted into tree farms. The scheme was originally proposed as a way to reforest marginal country that was denuded of red gums a century or more ago. A range of amendments have made it more attractive for large companies, especially heavy polluters, to buy fertile land and plant fast growing trees.
The Nationals are fighting on behalf of both graziers and irrigators who see valuable land and water being commandeered for trees. The Greens are also concerned that the whole scheme is a smoke screen to allow coal mines and aluminium smelters to continue polluting on the basis that the trees will clean up after them.
The ironies of the Greens voting against tree planting and the Greens and the Nationals voting together was not lost on the Liberal and Labor parties who joined forces to protect the commercial interests of the miners, energy companies and their financiers.
The Greens and the Nationals are finding they have significant common ground. Despite wide differences over social policy, both parties have strong grass roots and represent constituencies concerned about the long term future of the land and community and suspicious of the international financial sector that seems to have run the Lib Lab agenda for the last two decades.
Last week, Nationals and Greens joined forces to protest at the closure of the Tweed Heads hospital. Similar scenes were played out across the state as parliamentary representatives from both parties stood with their constituents to defend community projects against the cuts of a state government in its death throes.
Every time the Labor and Liberal parties join forces to protect the big end of town from the common people, they drive the Nationals and the Greens closer together. The long term implications for Australian politics may be enormous.