Policy Setting Needs Some Inspiration


I HAVE always been amazed at how governments and oppositions in the three years that they have between elections to work up good policy manage to come up with such political rubbish that even a donkey would not vote for.

With that amount of time one would think that the different political parties have to consult their cadre of staffers, their access to think tanks, their own members of parliament and lay party policy committees, not to mention peak bodies like WAFarmers, they would be able to come up with some election-winning ideas that rope in the votes.

This election is no different, here we are halfway through the campaign and we find that what’s on offer for agriculture is not only not very inspiring, some of it is down right bizarre.

For instance the Liberals have come up with a policy called ‘Strengthening Our Agricultural Shows and Regional Communities’ which seems to have confused problems around social license with animal activists.

Their solution is a bizarre scheme to spend $10m for 80 inner city schools to have computer simulated mini farms, whatever they are, plus a program to allow Australia’s four million school children to visit farms.

This equates to enough money for a single one way bus trip to the edge of the city for every student, in fact for inner city Sydney and Melbourne kids it would not get them out of the CBD.

Then there is their $20m support plan for country shows.

One has to question is this really going to strengthen our regional communities or convince city kids that agriculture is an important part of our economy.

When you add up the total number of ag shows – 580 and divide it by $20m less the inevitable 10 per cent bureaucratic administration fee, it equates to enough for a spruce up of the main entrance to the show grounds.

If they are serious about supporting agricultural shows and teaching city kids about where their food comes from then that $30m should have gone for free entry for each of the capital city Royal shows.

It was one of the Barnett government signature policies and worked a treat until it got politicised by the current government who turned it into a give away for their MPs to hand out half priced tickets to their constituents, which mostly end up in the rubbish bin of aged care centres.

Royal shows are for the four to 11-year-olds not the 40 to 110-year-olds – just give all kids free or half priced entry and be done with it.

The ALP is no better.

The one policy directly linked to agriculture not linked to banning live exports that I can find on their web site is called ‘Farm Productivity and Sustainable Profitability Program’.

You can find it listed after the section announcing the ban on the live export trade in five years time, obviously they have skipped the logic that ending the live export trade can’t possibly help farm profitability, but I digress.

This policy promises $25m a year over four years. The money will be used to help farms adapt to changing weather patterns. One wonders what do they think Australian farmers have been doing since 1788.

But it gets better.

Labor will spend the first 60 days in office establishing what they are calling a Panel of Guardians to advise government on the policy design and implementation strategies to help farmers cope with climate change.

It will have the usual mix of bureaucrats and boffins who will report to the minister within 12 months with a plan to help farmers plan. In other words after three years of thinking about climate change and the need for a carbon hit on the economy, they have both no idea how much it will cost, who will pay, how they will achieve their 45pc emissions reduction target and how they can possibly help farmers deal with a climate that is constantly changing.

This is the sort of second rate policy thinking that comes from people who sit in the offices of Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition Office.

At least the Liberals will end up with a few kids visiting farms and a dollop of paint on the show grounds cake stall building.

Whereas the ALP is playing a dangerous game of saying nothing to see here with their carbon policy which could well end up as a real cost for farm businesses.

Someone seems to have forgotten that by hitting the big end in town they will be hitting farmers as major ag service companies like CBH and CSBP get hit with having to pay for carbon offsets.

For what it’s worth, I would have advised the ALP to sink the whole of the $30m Lib school/shows policy into a joint industry TV advertising program to combat the animal activists and explain what ag does and just how good they are at it.

As for the ALP, if they are going to play in the carbon game and spend $100m, coming up with a cap and trade system that exempts trade exposed industries like agriculture would be a better bet

No bureaucrat or boffin is going to be able to come up with a formula that teaches farmers how to do what they successfully do which is successfully manage risk.

Either we are being played for mugs, or our political elites are completely out of touch on how to set policy that will capture the imagination of the voting public both within the farming electorates and across Australia as a whole.


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