Thursday, 16 June 2011

Don't let the #RuralLobby dominate the conversation on #liveexports, #water, #mdb - feel free to #joinin


Let me make myself clear, I have a jaundiced view of special pleading for the poor people in the country. Let me explain.

I am 67 years of age. From birth to 11 years of age, I lived in Brisbane.  From 1997 to 2001, I lived and worked in Sydney - which gave me a great deal of insight into corporate Australia, especially when I worked for a Packer company headed by Andrew Robb. From 2004, I have lived (and worked a little) in Melbourne. Of my adult life, therefore, I have spent ten years living in cities.  The rest has been lived in North Queensland apart from nine years in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs and four and a half years living in Tennant Creek in the NT.  I have spent thirteen and half years of my life living on the Barkly Tableland - a part of the world for which I have a deep love.  The Barkly Tableland extends across the Qld border, so - as well as Territory Time - I lived in Mount Isa for nine years.  I grew up in Bowen, at the northern end of the Whitsundays and, immediately prior to coming to Melbourne, was back again living in Townsville where I have lived for a total of nine years. 

I may not have lived "on the land" but I have lived in towns which have experienced the economic vicissitudes of rural life - droughts, governments with out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitudes who spend big on capital city freeways.  Nineteen years of my life were lived under the National Party Police State (of which Bob Katter Jr was a part) that was life under Joh Bjelke-Petersen.  Queensland (except perhaps for WA) is the one state where there is any National Party dominance.  NSW and Victoria have never really seen what the National Party will do when left to its own devices.  Queensland has. 

My father, J.J. O'Carroll Junior demonstrating cuts of beef
Bowen School of Arts in the 1950s

I do have an understanding of the current live cattle export drama.  You see, I grew up in Bowen beside the meatworks of Thomas Borthwick & Sons at Merinda.  In those days, Borthwick's were a family company owned by an English family and one of its younger members, whom I met, was actually called Tom. My father was a butcher, had gone to Bowen to be Boning Room Foreman, and became North Queensland Sales Manager.  My grandfather, in Brisbane, had been Queensland Stock Manager for AML&F - a pastoral house which became absorbed in takeovers, first from Dalgety and then Elders etc. So beef and cattle were pretty much the staples of family dinner-table conversation in my household.  Borthwick's meatworks at Merinda was an export works - exporting, in those days, mainly to the USA (very stringent export conditions) and the UK.  There may have been some Japanese exports too. 
My grandfather J.J. O'Carroll Senior sometime in the 1950s.
He was steward of the Fat Cattle at Brisbane's RNA (The Ekka) for many years. 
He was Queensland's, possibly Australia's, oldest licensed livestock auctioneer for some time

I used to watch the cattle coming over from stations like Alexandra on the Barkly in the NT.  I also know about the deliberate annihilation of export meatworks in Northern Australia by the rural lobby - someone should speak to Andrew Robb about this - so that they didn't have to put up with unions and so on. 

The pastoralists/graziers didn't give a fig for the economic lives of communities in Northern Australia for whom seasonal meatworks employment was a significant factor.  I am sorry for what has happened - although, as a vegetarian, I am a supporter of a complete ban on live exports.  Events seem to me to be a sort of natural justice, an ultimate outworking of decisions made a long time ago. 

As someone who has this sort of background, I feel I have heard - across the years - all that the rural lobby in all its forms has to say.  They are masters and mistresses of special and sectional pleading.

Other evidence of this special pleading is the fact that, with changes of government in Australia's most populous states, Victoria and NSW, water (our most precious commodity after clean, fresh air) has been consigned into the hands of the National Party.  Urban populations - who provide the bulk of regional tourism income to towns in the Murray Darling Basin by visiting National Parks, the Murray, the Darling, etc - have been excluded from consideration in the MDB discussions.  Only those special Australians of the rural lobby can have their say and their way in such debates, it would seem. 

A large section of rural people involved in agriculture talk too much to themselves about their specialness, how everyone depends of them, how they are at the mercy of those greenies and animal libbers.  This is the lobby that pleaded for tariffs to be removed so they could import their farm machinery from the USA and pay less for it.  And now we have Bob Katter Jr spouting a form of protectionism! This is the rural sector from whom John Kerin, the Hawke era Minister for Primary Industries, removed drought aid because there were so many people rorting the system!

I wouldn't care so much about the special pleading if there wasn't hatred and bigotry attached - but, as I have pointed out, their conversations are circular.

I don't believe the rural lobby and its constituents are aware of the huge social changes that have brought about clear, articulate, educated, intelligent voices in our society.

Bill Bishop, in his book 'The Big Sort", speaks of the clustering of like-minded Americans and how it is tearing them apart.

We are seeing a similar emergence in this country.  We see it the inner city suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney with the growing influence of The Greens vote.  However, that is not the only "sort".  Australians are wealthier and better educated and better travelled than every before. This applies to the rural sector as well.
There are two factors which wealth and education provide - choice and reflection.  It is clear that over the last decade or two there has been increasing reflection on ethical consumption - and consumption is dependent on choice.  The ethical middle class has spoken with regard to the cattle crisis and yet, it seems,that the rural lobby - in spite of the levy - did not manage in an effective manner the risk to its brand and its business of the ethical consumer. 

In my view, this demonstrates the insularity of the rural community reinforcing its own view within its own constituency without regard to other social factors.  As well as everything else, the rural lobby would do well to gain the services of a non-sympathetic sociologist to wake them up. 

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