Angry farmers wearing broad-brimmed hats and cracking kangaroo-hide whips rallied outside Parliament Monday as one of their colleagues continued a hunger strike to demand compensation for Australian climate change policy.
The protest by 250 farmers and their supporters drew public attention to the plight of sheep farmer Peter Spencer, who they say is on the 43rd day of his hunger strike to protest that he is not allowed to clear vegetation from his 20,000 acre (8,000 hectare) farm.
The 61-year-old has been living since Nov. 23, 2009, 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 state, 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Canberra, his supporters say.
State laws introduced throughout Australia since 1995 restrict the amount of land that 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.
“This is not about whether or not a farmer should be allowed to clear land, it’s about fair compensation for the land that the government is stealing from farmers,” said rally organizer Alastair McRobert, a friend of the hunger striker.
“He’s determined that he isn’t going to come down,” McRobert added, unless Prime Minister Kevin Rudd or an envoy agrees to meet him.
Rudd urged Spencer to seek urgent medical attention, adding that his land dispute should be decided by the courts.
“Policy will not be changed by threats of violence or self-harm,” Rudd’s office said in a statement.
Rudd, who was in Sydney during the rally, said government lawmaker Mike Kelly visited Spencer’s farm before Christmas but Spencer had refused to meet Kelly.
Sarah Spencer, one of the hunger striker’s four children who flew from her home in Cedar Springs, Michigan, to see her father on Christmas Day after reading of his hunger strike on the Internet, said he is consuming only water mixed with a little lemon juice.
“I wouldn’t like to comment on how long he can continue like this,” the 30-year-old mother of three said. “But his mind is sound and he knows what he’s doing.”
Spencer could not be contacted for comment on Monday.
He has been battling state authorities for a decade for permission to clear another 30 percent of his rugged highland property that he has owned for 30 years. 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.