Western Australian agriculture has just dodged a six gun full of bullets that had been loaded and aimed at farmers by Bill Shorten and his Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon. If labor had won on Saturday night they would have pulled the trigger and done some serious damage. To see just what sort of holes they would have shot into farm businesses lets go back through their six main agriculture election policies and recount what they had lined up for famers.
Native Vegetation Regulations: This policy was set to override existing state government laws on land clearing as part of the ALPs wildly ambitious but mad 45% 2030 emissions reduction target. The benchmark they set was Queensland’s disastrous new anti-clearing laws which are highly restrictive and have virtually ended the option of farmers removing any trees to square up paddocks to allow for more efficient cropping operations.
Carbon Tax: The ALP’s emissions reduction target would have seen the biggest 250 carbon emitters forced to buy carbon credits. The list of agricultural service companies in the firing line included; CBH, CSBP, WAMCO, Harvey Beef, Western Power and Telstra, so if your farm business just happened to use any of these companies you would have ended up paying for the ALPs virtue signalling on climate change. A cost that would not have made the slightest difference to your average rainfall over the next twenty years but has been calculated to have cost your farm business well over half a million dollars in that time.
This was a key issue I kept asking Joel Fitzgibbon about during the election campaign, ‘who pays and how much’? But all I got back was an angry swipe on twitter and again in person when we met in Canberra – obviously I had hit a nerve. Maybe if he and the labor team had tuned in to the farmers and coal mine workers instead of the inner city green left commentators, they might have picked up that their uncosted carbon policy was seen as too risky and expensive by everyday Australians.
Unions: The unions were lining up to share in the spoils of power as they had Shorten over a barrel for all the money and resources they had been pouring into the ALP. Fitzgibbon did his bit by offering up a policy proposal to put a union official on each of the RDC boards such as MLA, AWI, GRDC and Dairy Australia. The Shadow Minister told the NFF and other state farming organisations at a meeting two weeks ago that such a move was in the interest of farmers as the unions have an interest in productivity. This would have been news to many of the older generation of farmers with memories of long and bitter waterfront fights with the unions. This was a bizarre policy to attempt to dump on farmers, expecting them to accept a union official helping spend their levy funds, it showed he just did not care what they think.
Live Exports: Fitzgibbon in the middle of the campaign passed the death sentence on the live sheep trade, announcing his plan to wind up the trade to the Middle East asap and the whole trade within five years. His argument was that the industry had done such a poor job in animal welfare that it had to go. This flew in the face of the facts, as the trade has improved year on year over its five decade history, to the extent that deaths are now just 0.05%, down substantially from when it started. The science has delivered, and the summer closure sorted the last major risk but like the coal industry it did not sit well with the inner city green left, so the ALP was prepared to trade business and jobs for votes.
Tax: Shorten ran on a platform that involved the biggest tax heist in history, bigger even than the madness of the Whitlam era. If your farm business has been doing the right thing and putting funds into off farm investments for the next drought or to help intergenerational farm succession planning then Shorten had a tax plan lined up for you. Negative gearing, franked dividends, the previous governments legislated tax deductions, a new 30% tax on trust distributions, there was a swag of tax changes that were about to be rolled out if they had won that would have hammered farm businesses.
Labour: And finally access to seasonal labour including working holiday seasonal workers and flat rate casual workers without heavy weekend loading was on the chopping block. The ALP had a policy to close the door to willing workers and open the door to all those tens of thousands of Australians in high unemployment centres like Parramatta and Dandenong that have been clamouring to drive tractors in Pingrup and pick fruit in Donnybrook, seven days a week for 10 weeks a year. It was a politically driven policy that failed to acknowledge that unemployed Australians don’t want to work on farms.
So in the end the Australia voters decided that the ALP needed to scrap its 300 page political manifesto and go back to the drawing board and come back in three years time with a plan that supported workers not activists. We all dodged a lot of bullets Saturday night, so let’s hope they learn from their mistakes and come up with something more farmer friendly next time along with a shadow minister that actually supports farmers and agriculture and is prepared to work constructively with industry groups.