AGRICULTURE: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Rural unrest spreads
, July 17, 2004
Disaffection with Federal policies arising from a decade of deregulation and free market policies is spilling over simultaneously in a range of rural industries including beef, pork, dairy, apples and pears, fishing, sugar, tobacco, and fruit and vegetables.
At the end of June in Roma, western Queensland, 1,500 beef producers sent a strong message to Canberra that they were opposed to a new national Livestock Identification system to be introduced in July 2005, because it would cost conservatively $37 per beast to administer, with farmers bearing the cost.Beef
The meeting was organised by the Bindaree Beef abattoir group and supported by the Australian Beef Association. Farmers came from NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory and were supported by representatives from the pork, sugar, dairy, egg and small cropping industries.
The meeting passed a motion of no confidence in Federal Agriculture Minister, Warren Truss, and voted against the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement. The meeting criticised Mr Truss for failing to implement the recommendation of the Senate to have the Meat and Livestock Association directly elected by farmers, as it is failing to represent producers, and to remove funding and peak council status from the Red Meat Advisory Council which advises the Federal Minister.
These bodies are predominantly funded by a compulsory levy on farmers.
At Shepparton, in central Victoria's Goulburn Valley, 8,000 farmers and townspeople recently protested against the move by Biosecurity Australia, which is part of the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service, to allow imports of apples from New Zealand, where fire blight is endemic. Fire blight is to the apple and pear industry what foot and mouth disease is to the beef industry.
The rally was supported by other industries in crisis, including dairy and sugar. According to dairy farmer, Anthony Gray, a dairy farmer every day is leaving the industry in the Goulbourn Valley. "Either our different rural industries start working together or we are all going to face a death by a thousand cuts, either because of deregulation, or bad quarantine decisions, or governments bending over backwards to the environmental lobby on issues like farmers' water rights, or from competing imports," Mr Gray said.
Apple, pork and banana producers are all angry at the poor science used by Biosecurity Australia to justify imports that these industries argue will lead to exotic diseases threatening their industries and livelihoods.
The Australian Milk Producers' Association has recently run a series of protests and highway blockades as part of their campaign to have the dairy industry reregulated. According to AMPA Executive Officer, Michael Kearney, several highway blockades have been held in Victoria and farmers have held 34 rallies across the nation in the past year.
Mr Kearney said, "We have had preliminary talks with Mark Latham, and he proposes that the powers of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission be strengthened to help farmers bargain with supermarkets.
"This won't work, as the problem results from the power of the supermarkets to bargain down their price from milk processors. But our talks were a first step and at least Labor is talking and concerned about the issue."
In north Queensland, local commercial fisherman recently blocked the entrance to the port of Cairns in protest at the Federal Government's new zoning plan for coastal Queensland around the Barrier Reef. Commercial fishermen argue that this will make most of them unviable and claim the new zoning is the result of the Federal Government's bid for the green vote.
Tobacco farmers in North Queensland have had their licences to grow tobacco cancelled by the Australian Taxation Office, with the usual $45,000 compensation. This licence was the key to their livelihood. This tradeable licence gave value to their farms and its sale was their superannuation fund.
Meetings of sugar cane farmers along the Queensland coast have expressed disappointment with the recent Federal Government $444 million package, because most of what is being offered to farmers is too difficult to access, price support is only for one year and the Government has failed to heed the call for long-term solutions to give stability to the industry.
Fruit and vegetable growers are up in arms because of the failure of the Federal Government to enforce with sanctions the recommendations of the Review of the Retail Industry Code of Conduct. Growers are seeking transparency in the market place with their product, a definition of the terms of trade and clarification of who is responsible for their product through the marketing chain.
The Federal Government wants the code kept voluntary, but farmers insist that unless it is compulsory and involves sanctions, they will continue to be exploited by big retailers.
With so many industries in revolt, it is time the Federal Government undertook a major review of the array of issues hammering rural Australia.