Guest Notes

Australian notes

2 February 2017

3:00 PM

2 February 2017

3:00 PM

Invasion of the farm snatchers

As part of its curious strategy of attacking its base, the Turnbull government seems intent on inflicting the greatest blow to the confidence of the cattle industry since the Gillard government’s panic suspension of live cattle exports. This time the damage will be permanent and, for once, the ABC’s Four Corners cannot be blamed. You would think that after the backpackers, self-funded retirees, old age pensioners, and travel rorts, they’d have learned their lesson. They haven’t. Surrounded by armies of apparatchiks, awarding themselves endless luxury travel, hypocritically massive CO2 footprints and lifetime rivers of gold, it’s no wonder that politicians on both sides are usually dismissed by the rank-and-file as a privileged out-of-touch bunyip aristocracy dominated by overriding self-interest and too often lacking commonsense.

Their latest misstep is a plan to compulsorily acquire some 200,000 hectares of prime agricultural land (not ‘low value’ land as originally claimed) between Townsville and Charters Towers to add to the vast amount of land Defence already manages − or mismanages − in Queensland. Seventy farms, carrying around 100,000 head of cattle, are to be wiped off the face of the earth. Jobs and businesses − trucking, abattoirs, banks etc − will disappear. The impact on farming families, including some traced back to soldier settlers, will be devastating. But all this is not for the Australian Army; it’s for Singapore’s. And there’s a common sense solution; just 120 kilometres away is even more land on offer for a reported $35 million instead of a likely $600 million for the prime agricultural land.

The farmers, who disgracefully gained their first inkling about the plan through a small advertisement in a local paper, now enjoy the strong and crucial support of MP Bob Katter and specially Senator Pauline Hanson. While neither Marise Payne nor Christopher Pyne deigns to speak to the farmers, Minister Payne belatedly announced in a Rockhampton MP’s office that a KPMG ‘socioeconomic impact assessment’ for a ‘master plan’ is to be prepared and released in February. This is back-to-front government, so pre-Brexit and so pre-Trump. Don’t consult first with those most interested, and if there’s resistance, pay a small fortune for some rushed study when commonsense would tell you what to do.

Pointing to a similar study which took two years to complete, farmers’ lawyer Ian Conrads says ‘They’re getting political heat and they want it over and done with’. This tactic won’t work. The farmers will fight and the government is on shaky ground. While the defence of Australia is a legitimate purpose for compulsory acquisition, the defence of Singapore isn’t. If common sense does not prevail, this affair could drag on until the next election, draining Coalition support.

At least then, city dwellers will better understand just what horrors the elites are visiting on our farmers. Notwithstanding their honoured place in the life of our nation, farmers today live under something approaching a police state in which they are watched, harassed, and subject to surveillance even by satellite, just as if they were hardened criminals. They are minutely supervised, instructed and when daring to disobey, punished by an increasingly overbearing know-all political class and ideologically-oriented bureaucracy. This elite is driven by the UN’s Agenda 21 to retire more and more land from farming and more and more water from irrigation and conservation. As dairy farmers are turned into supermarket slaves, farmers generally are losing their water rights despite the clear and express guarantee of this inserted into our constitution by the founders and approved by the people. Little wonder then that suicide rates among farmers are so high. The disdain and vituperation of our ‘mum-and-dad’ farmers by the elites is so appalling and so little known in the cities that in our recent book, Jai Martinkovits and I named one chapter,’Why do they hate our farmers ?’

Why indeed? But just as they provided so much of our volunteer soldiery in two world wars, Aussie farmers are fighting back, and often in a decentralised way reminiscent of the ultimately successful US Tea Party movement. One South Australian-based organisation, FLAG Australia, Food Producers and Landowners Action Group, is causing concern in political circles. Its founder, Peter Manuel – described in another conference as ‘our farmer hero’ – persuaded a Charters Towers farmer, Bob Hicks, to be one of the speakers at a protest meeting in Hahndorf. This was one of a series of protests which had been addressed by farmers and their true allies, including Pauline Hanson.

The Hicks family acquired the 50,000 acre Charters Towers station, Mirambeena, 23 years ago. Bob and his father previously mustered and drove cattle there, and they struggled to buy the station when they were thrown off a property which was seized for a national park, now home to feral animals and replete with bushfire fuel. Tall and slim, wearing the trademark cattleman’s Akubra, Bob works the farm with his wife Meg and their family. Unlike the politicians, they don’t fly first or business class around the country and the world. They’re not at home in luxury hotels. No platinum-plated superannuation awaits Bob, no job as a lobbyist and no well-paid directorships. Not only has he never been outside Australia, until Hahndorf, he had never been so far south. Asked where the Hicks family take their holidays, he replied, tongue-in-cheek ‘What are they?’. They count themselves fortunate to have the occasional weekend away to watch son Robbie in some country show rodeo. The fact is the Hicks and the Manuel families are the salt of the earth, an Aussie fixture the elites are intent on driving out and replacing with national parks and the ghastly named ‘agribusinesses’ including those owned by foreign governments, even communist ones, while the farmers’ water is in the hands of international speculators. And the elites wonder why they were so wrong about the 1999 referendum, Brexit and now Trump. That won’t be their last mistake.

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