Double disillusion for WA farmers

Rueben HaleCountryman

As Australia goes to the polls this Saturday, farmers could be forgiven for thinking they may have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

While the Australian farming industry has called on both major political parties to address agriculture as part of their election campaigns, neither has made it a clear priority.

Gillingarra sheep producer Jim Kelly says he feels abandoned by both sides.

Mr Kelly has endured some difficult times in recent years fending off foreclosure on his farm, while struggling to make a profit.

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He says during the marathon eight-week election campaign, farmers have been left standing at the front gate by the Liberal and Labor.

“Neither party have seemed to have been willing to talk about the farming industry, which is the nation’s second-largest contributor to the economy,” Mr Kelly said.

Mr Kelly said most Federal politicians seemed deaf to the voice of West Australian agriculture, which is a big contributor to the nation’s economy, generating almost $8 billion in agrifood exports each year.

“It seems Canberra regards the relatively small number West Australian farmers as rusted-on Liberal or National voters, and therefore are overlooked during an election campaign,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the farming enterprise in WA, as has been the case in many parts of Queensland and New South Wales, has been crucified by lack of rain in primary producing areas and salinity, while the banks levy onerous financial constraints on those farmers that can least afford it.”

Mr Kelly spared some praise for the Nationals.

“Having said that, I do acknowledge the support of former Nationals leader Warren Truss in with the construction of the New Norcia bypass road and also Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce with his work developing export markets for livestock,” he said.

“On the other hand, Labor over the years has tended to treat farmers as thought they were financially secure and not in need of much assistance.”

“This has been the case since the Labor Party first came to office in the 1970s under Gough Whitlam. My father was a railway worker, so our family definitely didn’t originate from a privileged background, although I acknowledge that many farmers have done.”

Mr Kelly said the political parties needed to do more to support farmers initiating good policy on land conservation, rural infrastructure, foreign ownership and access to cost-competitive labour.

“The needs of farmers and the rural community in regards to having access to rail and well-maintained safe roads in such a huge State like WA have been ignored during this election campaign,” he said.

“And many farmers are becoming increasingly concerned about foreign investment and selling off our precious farming land that ought to stay in Australian hands.”

But Mr Kelly said the introduction of the “backpacker tax” was of most concern to him and other farmers he had spoken to because competitive labour was the only thing keeping many farming enterprises viable.

“This decision was made with almost no consultation with the industries that would be most impacted by its introduction,” he said.

Meanwhile, Darkan farmer and innovator Ray Harrington said neither party had spoken about how they planned to make Australian farming more competitive during the election campaign.

“Farmers are getting squeezed in markets around the world and I’m not sure what government can do about that,” he said.

“Our cost of production is too high and we cant expect to be subsided. Value adding our products could be the key, but first we need to be having the discussion at the table to explore these types of issues.”

But Mr Harrington said between being uninspired by both political parties, he believed the Coalition’s $50 billion tax cut for business was the best plan for stimulating the post mining boom economy.

“Mr Shorten’s ‘Mediscare’ campaign is the biggest red herring I’ve ever heard,” he said. “Outsourcing the accounting of Medicare is not destroying it.

“The tax break for business is the only way we will be able to keep our economy going.”

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