April 10th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Economic underclass behind marriage and fertility decline

EDITORIAL: Uncommunicative patients - a call on our compassion

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Latham Iraq gaffe signals the honeymoon is over

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The next Four Corners? / Granada

SOCIETY: Who benefits from drugs?

AGRICULTURE: Farmers rallying to fight for industries

ECONOMY: Australia's foreign debt set to grow

The Passion (letter)

Sugar prices (letter)

Tobacco and pharmaceuticals (letter)

Ageing population (letter)

ETHICS: The ethical responsibility of a Christian politician

ECONOMY: US-Australia Free trade agreement and the national interest

TAIWAN ELECTION: Saved by commonsense

PAKISTAN: Inside Pakistan's nuclear weapons program

HONG KONG: Poll battle looms over democratic reforms

BOOKS: Benign or Imperial? Reflections on American Hegemony, by Owen Harries

FILM REVIEW: The Last Samurai

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Farmers rallying to fight for industries

by News Weekly

News Weekly, April 10, 2004
Government policies over 20 years have hit the rural sector hard.

Farmers are now nakedly exposed to:

  • larger, fewer and more powerful corporate processors;

  • two supermarkets who have about 76% of the packaged and fresh food market;

  • corrupt international markets where the subsidised, dumped excesses of the EU and US are sold at very low prices;

  • farm input corporations, who sell fertilizers, chemicals and seeds that farmers need for high productivity, but which farmers buy at enormous cost;

  • rising debt as they pursue the "get big or get out" mantra of governments and farm peak bodies;

  • weakened quarantine; and more.

These problems are variously the result of joint Federal and State National Competition Policy that has deregulated many rural industries, trade policy, quarantine decision, and the failure of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to stop the growth of monopolistic processors and retailers that are able to exploit their market power over farmers.

Farmers have started to take matters into their own hands. In the sugar industry, the Sugar Industry Reform Committee has protested against National Competition Policy-driven deregulation plans. This has not been without some success.

Last year, farmer protests led to the Federal Government applying a levy on domestically sold sugar. While this is intended for a package that won't solve the industry's problems, it has established an important principle, namely that governments can apply levies as part of industry packages for agriculture.

Further as a result of more protests this year, last week the Federal Government decided to extend the excise-free period for biofuels (including ethanol) from five to eight years. While this tax break alone won't provide sufficient incentive for investment in large-scale ethanol production, it is a first step in the right direction.

The Australian Milk Producers' Association has begun to rally farmers to have the dairy industry reregulated.

Recently in north Queensland, the first steps were taken to form a cross-industry working group. It has become clear to more industry groups that as one primary industry after another is "picked off", combined action across industries is needed. There is strength in numbers.

Separately in the grains industry, a new group called the Single Desk Network has been formed to defend the single selling desk arrangements for the wheat industry, which is under threat.

Along the Murray Darling basin, action by irrigator groups, farmers action groups, regional councils and communities have put the brakes on moves to limit farmers' water rights.

Unless decisive action is taken of a combined nature, Australian industries will face further serious decline. In turn, that will seriously undermine manufacturing industry, the bulk of which is the processing of food and fibre off the farm.

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