December 7th 2013

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Abbott and the Indonesia espionage row

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Australia's enemies at home and abroad

AGRICULTURE: Fighting to keep families on their own land

SCHOOLS: Economy held back by lack of skilled tradesmen

LIFE ISSUES: Tasmania widens scope for abortion, restricts free speech

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Middle-class families struggling on two incomes

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Joe Hockey and the ADM takeover bid for GrainCorp

POLITICAL LANGUAGE: Defending the indefensible by sugar-coating killing

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: China takes leading role in new 'scramble for Africa'

CULTURE: 'Tis the season to give the imagination free play

LITERATURE: How George MacDonald's fantasy fiction illuminates reality

BOOK REVIEW When science poses as a religion

BOOK REVIEW Family decline behind loss of religious faith

CINEMA: Nostalgic retrospect on Sixties radicalism

LETTERS Why it matters who owns Australia's GrainCorp

LETTERS Expatriate Australian intellectuals

LETTER Practical fuel-reduction tip to prevent bushfires

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Fighting to keep families on their own land

by Barnaby Joyce

News Weekly, December 7, 2013

“We must get a better return back to the farm gate, and fighting to keep families on their own land must be the core of agricultural policy,” declared new Minister for Agriculture and National Party deputy leader, the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, in his recent maiden speech in the House of Representatives.

After serving as a National Party senator for Queensland from July 2005 until August this year, he resigned his Senate seat to contest the House of Representatives electorate of New England in northern New South Wales, where he grew up. He was elected at the September 7 federal election with a comfortable margin of 22 per cent, and is the first person in the history of the Australian Parliament to have represented one state in the Senate and a different state in the House of Representatives.

Here is part of the maiden speech he delivered on November 14, in which he highlights, with illustrations from history, the vital importance of agriculture to a nation.


New England has a long and proud agricultural tradition, producing just about everything that helped build Australia: cattle, sheep, grain, forestry and dairy, as well as other products such as tin, coal, gold and gas.

But its cultural heart is the land and it is a good life that is led on the land; it is honest. Your endeavours feed and clothe people and it is based around the family. Growing up on the soil gives a strong attachment to the country and it is integral to what the nation is. Those who may be dismissive of this statement as prosaic could possibly not have had the seminal experience of a life lived outside.

Cicero said, about 100 years before Christ: “Of all the occupations by which gain is secured, none is better than agriculture, none more profitable, none more delightful, none more becoming to a free man” (Cicero, De Officiis, Book 1).

The Hon. Barnaby Joyce,

Minister for Agriculture

Our farm supported our family, and the war memorials in every nearby town to me said that our district supported our nation. At Woolbrook Public School good people in three generations turned up to see the Christmas school play — which will be on again soon. Some of those families had been in the district for over a hundred years. Some of those families had been in the district for over 10,000 years. So my agricultural belief was based on a real economic experience.

My social belief, like most individuals’ social belief, was immensely affected by that same life experience. It was premised on the notion that people who work hard and live decent lives, producing a good that has real worth, should be fairly paid and fairly dealt with. A nation that does not defend these people has lost its more noble instincts.

In China this week the ruling Communist Party announced greater property rights for farmers. So this belief is ubiquitous and current. The farming community has always had to live with the belief that we make sacrifices because things will get better, but the better never seems to happen.

Now our debt between government and private sectors is massive. Many major businesses in mining and agriculture are now foreign-owned and gone.

The family farm of the 1970s is generally unviable, and the deft hand of an external conscience has crystallised so that farm management practices have to conform to a view whose religion is a quasi-alternative environmentalism — of forms, of paperwork and of trees having attained an anthropomorphic character. We have evolved to the ridiculous extent where animal rights are interchangeable with human rights.

My initial introduction to the agriculture portfolio, handed over by the previous Labor government, replicated the industry. It has been usurped to a point where, in many instances, it is the mere ambassador for agriculture. Water and vegetation are with state and federal environment departments. Sale of many agricultural products and land is with Trade and Treasury. Even determination of the use of agricultural products is held by independent authorities within the agricultural portfolio, with no say by the minister.

I commend the Prime Minister for his decision to put forward a white paper to investigate the ways our nation can better deliver an agricultural outcome. If we are solely reliant on mines, we will live in a boom-bust cycle. If our future is only in services, then we must contend with lower wages — one click away on the internet — as anything that can be done on the computer can be done somewhere else by someone else at a cheaper rate. We need a strong, vibrant agricultural sector for the future of this nation.

The preparation for politics was at that same laminated bench in the kitchen [my first memory of New England] and then extended, in a more formal setting, to Sunday lunch at the dining-room table. Everything that was happening to us in our lives seemed to have a connection to politics.

If the wharves were on strike and could not move the wool, that was a form of politics. If the road had not been graded, that was politics. If a chemical to treat flystrike in sheep was taken from the market, that was politics. If you were shut out of a market overseas, that too was politics. If interest rates went through the roof, that was economic policy linked to politics. If your vegetation rights had been taken from you, that was politics. If you had also taken from you the hydrocarbonaceous minerals that were assigned initially to the title and they had been transferred to the state, that was politics.

And, if you cannot build Chaffey Dam because of the Booroolong frog and you cannot fix the road to Weabonga because of the same Booroolong frog 30 kilometres away, that is beyond politics — it is verging on barking mad.

The clarity to these views was attended to when, Odysseus-like, I took part in a journey that took me and my family away from my home and now, 20 years later, has taken us back again. This journey brought into focus the dry arts of commerce as I trained as an accountant, ultimately owning and running my own accountancy practice.

Concerns about debt that were initially drilled into me by my family were emphasised in the assessment of people’s capacity to repay debt on their credit paper. Overall debt is very easy to get and extremely hard to pay back. As an accountant, I saw this from both sides, in both assisting a client and assessing a client.

I am deeply concerned to see the financial predicament that this country has been left in because of where we are and the trajectory of where we are off to, and this trajectory could have been anticipated, and I stated this anticipation back in 2009.

To be a strong nation we must be financially in control. To be a moral nation it requires selflessness in what we do now, otherwise the circumstances we will leave for our children will be vastly diminished, compared to that which was handed to us. We must develop our capacity to get more which is of worth to a venue that is willing to pay for it on terms and conditions that are to our greatest advantage and has us, as a nation, negotiating that advantage from a position of strength.

We must get a better return back to the farm gate, and fighting to keep families on their own land must be the core of agricultural policy. We must acknowledge the lesson that history repeats itself and the human condition that underpins these motivations is consistent. No one will tend the field of our future in the way the persons who will reap from it will. No other nation will look after us; in fact they will play to our weaknesses.

Rome was not interested in Egypt for the pyramids or Cleopatra or much that lay in the deserts beyond the Nile. It was interested in wheat to feed Rome. For hundreds of years Egypt was a major exporter of grain, with the government’s main source of revenue derived from its control and trade.

Rome was only a minor customer for much of this period; but by 30BC Rome had conquered Egypt, in part to deny others access to the grain. Initially, more than 150,000 tons of Egyptian grain, which accounted for one-third of Rome’s consumption totals, travelled this route. Ultimately, Rome imported up to two-thirds of its grain from Egypt.

During the imperial era, the Roman navy patrolled the seas, not to conquer new enemies but to protect the merchant fleet from pirates. Romans understood that political stability came from a public that was fed. And, on a future stage, the British borrowed from this lesson, and China is living it in a vastly more sanitised and politically correct form today.

The basic rule remains the same: look after your own. My family history is a case in point. My forebear, Mary Troy, who came to this great country in 1847, and whose name is etched in a monument at Macquarie Barracks in Sydney, had parents who starved to death — found dead in a hedge. Mary could read and write when she arrived, so it was not ignorance that brought about her predicament.

There is indisputable evidence that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England when people of Ireland were dying of starvation. Almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to the ports of Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London during 1847. At the same time, 400,000 Irish men, women and children died of starvation and related diseases.

According to economics professor Cormac Ó Gráda’s book, Ireland Before and After the Famine (Manchester University Press, 1988; rev. edn, 1994), although the potato crop failed, the country was still producing and exporting more than enough grain crops to feed the population. But that was a money crop, not a food crop, and could not be interfered with.

This is the deadly hand of bureaucracy as defined by politics beyond your domestic control, and the reality of where power truly lies, especially when it comes to food.

Now, in the perfect world, there will be the free movement of goods across borders, and deficiencies will be supplied by excesses from other areas, seamlessly, and with requisite funds always apparent to conclude these transactions. And we will know when this day has arrived because all the armies will be gone and all the borders will be removed.

The antagonist, who is currently excitedly typing this up from a room somewhere on the fourth estate, will say that this speech implies that Australia is heading to the Irish famine scenario. Far from it! Responsible foreign investment is essential. I do not oppose that, and I never have. I understand enough about this space to know that one must note the advice of Rudyard Kipling when he said that you must be able to hear the truth you have spoken “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.

Further to this, I am, on policy, guided by my university motto from Tacitus, which states: ex sapientia modus — from wisdom comes moderation. And that means that absolutes and both extremes are perilous. But we must not leave tasks for our children that we cannot bear for ourselves.

Politics in Canberra can get entangled in philosophical zealotry that has little to no connection with a general concern held on the street or in the country. There is a craving for politicians to understand the public’s concern about their lives rather than re-announce the politicians’ conceits about the politicians’ views.

This building, evolved from the agricultural setting it was built in, has little connection to the struggles of small business and does not assist this process. It is great also to see Frank Zumbo here today, who has guided me so well on so many issues regarding small business.

From my observation, two things happen to you in this building: you gain weight, and you lose touch. The passion of the issues from the laminated kitchen bench from where you started becomes a memory and then an excuse. You get embroiled in the machismo of the debate in the chamber, which may collect the interest of your peers but not the respect of the public. It becomes a perverse form of mud-wrestling in a suit — holding steadfastly to beliefs in the chamber that from a distance seem completely to lack logic and up closer bring no greater clarity as to where our nation’s best interest lies.

The National Party may collect sneering derision and muffled insults, but it is a vital component of the broader ventilation for those in the community who feel intimidated by the lack of breadth in the political machine. Politics has a highly centralised nature and impedes the capacity to move much beyond a single view — at most, two.

Many Australians feel that the core concerns they hold are used only as a mechanism to insult them. This happens without delivering any real reason, and the life experience of the writer or the orator does not give any greater capacity as to why their views are more profound or emanate from a greater realm of wisdom.

However, far from being a dismal pursuit, politics is represented by good people on both sides of the chamber. Whether from a farming organisation, a rotary club or a trade union, there are always people who rise above the slings and arrows of ridicule or their own personal belief and do what is best for their nation.

These people are not required to be saints. If you are looking for saints you are looking in the wrong building, because you will have little luck around here. Politicians are not here to save your soul; they are here to look after your country.

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