Charlie Thomas

Former national policy manager for the Property Council of Australia Charlie Thomas has traded the built environment for the agricultural sector, taking up the role of general manager – rural affairs and agribusiness for the National Farmers’ Federation.

During his time with the PCA Mr Thomas focused on policy areas including environment and sustainability, regulation and compliance, risk, infrastructure and cities.

Previously he had been policy manager land use and regulatory affairs for the NSW Farmers’ Federation and worked across issues including environment and planning laws, the relationship between extractive industries and agriculture, urban expansion in the Sydney basin and the regulation of windfarms. In 2012, he led a coalition of 30 industry and community groups in a campaign for better regulation of mining and coal seam gas projects on strategic agricultural land.

Mr Thomas told The Fifth Estate he hoped to bring some of the approaches that underlie property sustainability rating schemes and energy efficiency across to the farming sector as part of better equipping it to become a premium food producing sector globally with good sustainability credentials.

“Some of the ways of thinking about the urban environment translate across,” he said.

This also includes linking ideas around capital and sustainability, something the agricultural sector is only starting to explicitly engage with. And also learning from property sector approaches to measuring sustainability, something Mr Thomas said it “does very well”.

He said that with a strong focus on sustainability to improve yields and global market share, the agricultural sector is likely to be generating considerably more export income than coal or iron ore by 2030.

There is a need, he said, for the urban sector to appreciate the reliance it has on the rural sector.

“Our cities become unviable if they don’t have regional areas to support them with water, food, resources and energy,” Mr Thomas said.

“People thinking about cities need to have an understanding of how we service the needs of people in the city.”

Specific areas of NFF activity Mr Thomas will be working on include trade, telecommunications, infrastructure, capital market issues, and drought, climate variability and the impact of severe weather events – which reflects the NFF’s acceptance of climate change as a reality.