Flat White

Tackle the drought or a hard rain’s gonna fall

17 October 2019

5:00 AM

17 October 2019

5:00 AM

I’m a country kid. I grew up on a broadacre farm 360 kilometres south-east of Perth, in a little town called Hyden. Wheat, sheep and gravel dust as far as the eye can see. When I finished Year 7, I went to boarding school to complete high school and then went on to university. My dad wanted me to study: he wanted me to work smart; not hard like he has (and continues to do). But as the saying goes, you can take the kid outta the country, but you can’t take the hard-working straight-shooter outta the kid. Well, something like that anyway.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not much of a crier. At all. But watching Jones and Credlin on Tuesday had me in tears. I’ve been around farmers my whole life; they are resilient, industrious and indefatigable. They are the quiet achievers who keep us fed and clothed, and whose industry keeps things ticking along when the mining sector is down and the manufacturing sector has all but disappeared. But the pleas from farmers calling Alan Jones on 2GB, and replayed on Sky, shattered my heart into a million pieces. It was the sound of loss, desolation and impenetrable misery. Grown men, in tears; devoid of hope. It was something I never thought possible and something I wish I could unhear. But I can’t.

Alan Jones tears up live on-air in emotional tribute to struggling farmers

WATCH: Sky News host Alan Jones has broken down in tears live on-air while delivering an emotional tribute to farmers struggling to make ends meet as drought continues to ravage the country.More: http://bit.ly/2VKxtBe #JonesAndCredlin

Posted by Sky News Australia on Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Now I’m not going to talk about numbers, proportions, or percentages. I want to talk about people and communities. I want to talk about consequences. And the stopping of the proverbial buck. Country towns are little oases which dot our vast parched landscape – where people have a yarn out the front of the shop, where horns toot at the footy on a Saturday afternoon when someone kicks a goal, and where your friends are like family and they support you through it all.

To understand the root of the issue, you have to understand the beast – farmers complain about everything and nothing. They could always have done with another 10 mls of rain at the end of September, the lambs could’ve been a bit bigger at weaning, and it could definitely have been a couple of degrees cooler when they ran up that line of fencing. I know, I’ve heard it a million times. But despite the grumbles, farmers love the land, their stock and their communities. They wouldn’t be anywhere else, and when the going gets tough, they knuckle down and get tougher.

But the thing is that everyone has a breaking point. They are tough but they are still human. They still carry the burden of cashflow, providing for families, and caring for animals. The grind is wearing, and despite the will to carry on, people can only hold tight for so long. And in the case of farmers in Queensland and New South Wales, it has been what must feel like an interminable decade of drought, debt and despair.

The first tragic thing is, it will rain. It always does. We just don’t know when. And the objective becomes holding on to just enough so that the phoenix can rise from the ashes.

The second tragedy is our political class. Vocational, tin-eared, navel-gazers the lot of them. Ultimately and unfortunately, agriculture is not a politically expedient industry to support – it’s light on votes and it isn’t unionised. Governments prefer to paddle in the shallows and support politically palatable causes – those projects where the money to vote ratio is strong and the sense of achievement can gleam in all its self-interested and unfettered glory.

But there is so much this nation, its soul and its legacy owes to the people on the land. On Tuesday, Pauline Hanson moved a motion in the Senate to provide immediate emergency support to drought-stricken farmers – the vote was split 30-30 and went down. It was the Liberals and Nationals who voted against it. Yep, you heard correctly. Farmers, regional communities and Australians as a whole have the right to feel totally betrayed. Because they have been.

In recent times, so much political capital and taxpayer money has been wasted frolicking around at the peripheries, indulging vanity projects: climate palaver, funding Great Barrier Reef interest groups, giving public servants pay rises, hand wringing over a hand full of kids on Nauru, ISIS brides, and partying with Trump.

But while the posturing, virtue signalling and easy wins take centre stage, the need to fund dams and save regional Australians from poverty and commercial annihilation is cast aside because it doesn’t tickle the egos of the political elites. And then there are the state governments. NSW is making a pallid attempt at pretending to care but the Queensland and Victorian Labor governments, refuse to make even that pitiful effort. I want to be surprised by their award-winning moral bankruptcy but given the drivel they have been serving up in recent years, from late-term abortion to corruption scandals, their betrayal of the regions is totally on-brand.

Government, both federal and state, must provide our drought-stricken communities and farmers with substantive, appropriate and immediate assistance. Once our agricultural industry is destroyed, it will be a slow uphill battle to rebuild it. And that doesn’t take into account the human tragedy; the lives lost, the trauma and the feeling of hope lost.

Our governments, the Nationals and that political non-event of an Agriculture Minister, Bridget McKenzie, should be ashamed of themselves. Country people are loyal, but they’re not stupid. And they also have a long memory: they will tell you off the top of their head that in 1975 they had a wet July and an eight bag crop.

Come the next election, they won’t forget you abandoned them in their time of greatest need. That you stood by and paid lip service while a national crisis played out before your very eyes. And they will make you suffer. And you will deserve every bit of electoral pain they deliver to you. That will be your legacy.

Caroline Di Russo is a lawyer, businesswomen and unrepentant nerd.

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