Australian greenhouse protester ends hunger strike

The Economic Times , Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Correspondent : AP
CANBERRA, Australia: A hunger striker who became a champion of farmers who complain that they pay the price for Australia's climate change policy ended his 52-day fast Wednesday, his supporters say.

Sheep farmer Peter Spencer, 61, said he consumed only water mixed with a little lemon juice since Nov. 23, 2009, in protest of state laws introduced throughout Australia since 1995 that restrict the amount of land farmers can clear of vegetation that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Slowing land clearing is equivalent to reducing a country's greenhouse gas emissions in calculations under the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol.

Spencer and his supporters argue that farmers deserve federal compensation because the restrictions make their land less productive.

While the government has not changed the laws to allow farmers to clear more of their land, or offered them compensation, Spencer said Wednesday that he had made his point and would start eating again.

During his fast Spencer lived on a platform 20 feet (6 meters) up a steel wind-monitoring tower on his alpine farm at Shannon's Flat in New South Wales, 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of the national capital Canberra.

``As much as the nation is concerned about me, my concerns are directed at the families of the hundreds of farmers who have suicided and the politicians who have failed to show any concern, compassion or morality for what the government has done to these families,'' Spencer said in a statement released before he left the platform.

Recent research has found that the suicide rate among farmers is more than double that of other Australians. The National Farmers Federation, Australia's leading advocacy group, blames drought conditions rather than climate change legislation for the high suicide rate.

He said he was leaving the tower on his doctor's advice and would admit himself to hospital.

Supporter Angela Muller said he was expected to receive his first nourishment in hospital.

His campaign gained national media attention and last week about 250 farmers and their supporters rallied outside Parliament House to demand Prime Minister Kevin Rudd save Spencer's life by addressing his complaints.

Spencer said he will continue to lobby the government to hold an inquiry into land clearing laws that have prevented him from felling native forest on his 20,000 acre (8,000 hectare) farm that he has owned for 30 years.

Opposition lawmaker Barnaby Joyce, who argues that the government has a moral obligation to compensate farmers like Spencer, welcomed his decision to give up his hunger strike.

``It takes a lot of courage to climb up that pole, but it takes even more courage to come down,'' Joyce told Sky News.

Rudd said last week that policy would not be changed by threats of violence or self-harm. Rudd said Spencer's dispute should be settled by the courts.

Spencer has been battling state authorities for a decade for permission to clear another 30 percent of his rugged highland property. He argues that with only 10 percent cleared, his potential to expand wool production was limited and his land is devalued.

He has made almost 200 appearances over the dispute in various state and federal courts.


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