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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Farmers hopes dashed by acts of political spite

Farmers from across New South Wales today gathered outside what passes in this State for a Parliament.
They came in their hundreds believing that their representatives might consider their stories, their experiences and their views (if not their votes).No-one thought it would be easy. These people know that - they are farmers. "Easy" is not what farmers ever expect from their lot in life.
They assembled outside the Parliament building at 10:30 am, having left the Liverpool Plains at 3:30am. Many of them are in their seventies - life-long farming families. They take the threat to their livelihoods, and to their lifestyle, seriously.For them this is a battle for preserving family heritage. In many cases we are talking about three generations of family farming, sometimes more. Why would they not take that threat seriously?And then there is the economic issue - based around short term profits for foreign multinational companies (including the once great "Big Australian" - BHP Billiton, now primarily a South African controlled and administered mining conglomerate (their "Headquarters" in Melbourne is managed primarily by South African executives) - and the Chinese Mining company Shenhua and its proposed "Watermark" mine. The people from the Gloucester-Stroud area were also well represented, as well as people from the Mudgee district, the Central Coast, Illawarra and the Southern Highlands.All these groups of affected farmers posed the same economic question - Coal versus Food?
It is a short term versus long-term issue - short term profits (and short-term royalties for Government) versus rural communities providing sustainable income - in perpetuity.
Ultimately the farmers can grow food and rural produce worth infinitely more than the coal.
But not if their land is destroyed, either by the truly disastrous Open Cut mining (as proposed by Shenhua and Gloucester Coal) or by longwall mining, as proposed by BHP, which will drain the aquifers upon which the farmers depend. Either way they will be "stuffed".
IMAGE: The Hunter Region's Lemington coalmine - thanks to Hunter Valley Gliding Instructor Morgan Sandercock of (Image found at Project SafeCom website)

The rally was quite good natured, and there were even a few light-hearted moments, such as when Kim and Bernie from the Australian Water Network were "arrested" by Constable Mal from the Wilderness Society (in fancy dress).Here is the "Wanted" poster for Minister Ian Macdonald, Minister for Mineral Resources.Well, with the rally over, we went into the Parliament, to find that our presence, outside and inside the building was treated with suspicion (initially) and then disdain, and ultimately, with disrespect.

Firstly, prior to the resumption of the debate on the Bill, as scheduled as per the Orders of the Day, the Government attempted to introduce a condolence motion for a soldier killed in Afghanistan. This was clearly a stalling tactic, for the Condolence Motion had been on the Notice Paper for some 13 days. Suddenly it was brought forward as a matter of urgency. One Member, quite rightly berated the Government for attempting to use the death of a soldier as a stalling tactic to prevent the debate on another matter (the coal mining bill). As he said, he is the only Vietnam Veteran in any Parliament in Australia, and he felt sure all Vietnam Veterans and serving Soldiers would feel disgust that a soldier's death could be abused in such a callous and politically expedient manner. Duncan Gay, Deputy Leader of the National Party has put out a Press Release along these lines.

The bid to bring forward the debate on the Condolence Motion was withdrawn, but not before some precious time had been lost. The Government had simply wanted to avoid the substantive debate being brought on in front of an audience of farmers and environmental campaigners. The debate eventually started, with just one speaker, and was then adjourned when Question Time was called at 12:00 noon. Round one to the Government's delaying tactic.

During Question Time, Minister Macdonald answered a "Dorothy Dixer" (a friendly question on the subject from one of his own back-benchers). He spoke lovingly of being both the Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Mining - ignoring the obvious conflict of interest, as portrayed in the aerial picture above of a Hunter Valley Coal mine. Round two to the Government.
Mining wins over Agriculture, every time, when the miners do that to the earth.

We went to lunch at this point.

Tonight, when we came home to the Southern Highlands we heard on the radio that the bill had been defeated by a single vote.

Reverend the Hon Fred Nile, MLC, Assistant President of the Legislative Council of New South Wales voted against the Bill, because, as he is reported (by the ABC) to have said (Hansard reports are not yet available as I write this): "I can not support this bill. It's not because of the content, it is because if the bill is allowed (it) will give a great ability for the Green party to blow their trumpets," he said.

Did you get that, folks? The Reverend Fred Nile voted the Bill down, not because of the content of the Bill, but out of spite - because he cannot bear the thought of the Greens having a win.

I would dearly love to ask the Reverend Fred (a member of the "Christan Democrats Party") upon which Christian or Democratic principles he made that decision? The majority of the persons affected by the Bill which he voted down are old-fashioned "God Fearing Folks", from the country - some even as old as himself. Do they not have the right to some consideration? What about the future livelihoods of their families, about whom his Party would surely profess concern?

No doubt the vote by the Reverend Gentleman is based upon other issues, such as the Right to Life debate, and his well-known views against homosexuality. Neither of those issues bears any relevance to the debate. His vote would appear to be based not upon the arguments themselves (he said as much himself) as upon hatred of certain views of the proponents of the Bill. I conclude that, in all probability, he voted it down out of pure spite.

The words "Old Bastard" and "Hypocrite" spring to my mind, but I could not possibly use them to refer to the Reverend Gentleman, and Honourable Member of the NSW Legislative Council.

Fred Nile was joined in opposing the Bill by the two members of the Shooters Party (in the NSW Upper House). It is well known that the Greens party opposed the contruction of a large Rifle Range and Shooting Complex at Hill Top (near Mittagong), in the Southern Highlands. So their opposition to this Bill is presumably a "pay back" against the Greens for that issue - even though they won their case for the Shooting Range, with the support of the Gopvernment.

Ironic that - for the Shooters Party people claim to have many members who are farmers. Certainly many farmers are shooters. Yet they voted down a bill which would have advantaged their own class of constituents. Yet another example of voting according to spite, not principle, nor on the arguments of the case, nor on the economics of the case, nor even according to natural political sympathies nor presumed shared interests.
***** ***** *****
There is a salutary lesson to be learnt here.
Be careful who you choose as your friends, in Politics.

The farmers of NSW who were threatened by coal mining had little choice in going with the Greens - even though they might not be regarded as natural Greens constituents. Many would surely be more naturally regarded as either "old-money Liberals" or Nationals supporters (remember when they were the Country Party?). However, only Lee Rhiannon (the sponsor of this Bill) and the other Greens had shown much interest at all in opposing coal mining under prime agricultural land. When the Greens proposed this Bill, it seemed the farmers' only hope of gaining Legislative support. So, naturally they supported the Bill.

But the Bill was defeated precisely because it was sponsored by The Greens.

UPDATE: Hansard Extract - part of Speech by Rev'd the Hon Fred Nile, MLC:
"That is why I cannot support this bill. It is not because of the content; it is because the bill will give the Greens greater ability to blow their trumpets and claim a great victory in this State, and give them further political oxygen. During my time in this Parliament I have been working hard to deny political oxygen to the Greens." Fred Nile - 4 May 2009.
You may go to the Hansard link above to read the full debate.

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The National Party member for the Upper Hunter, Mr George Souris has a track record of promoting coal mining, although he spoke to the crowd today of his support for this Bill. That speech brought tears to the eyes of the well-loved and well-respected member of the Liverpool Plains community, Mrs Duddy who said: "I have waited three long years for George Souris to say what he has said, here, today".
Front and Centre - Mrs Duddy
Photo: (AAP: Dean Lewins)
From the ABC report of the defeat of the Bill.

The decent farming folk of New South Wales do not deserve to be treated in the disgraceful manner in which they were treated today. In fact - nobody does.

At the very least we expect in a Parliamentary Democracy for debates to be treated upon the merits of the argument. We hope for nothing more. We got much, much less than that today. As a debate, it was a disgrace.
***** ***** *****

There is an up-side to this, however, for if I know these people, as I believe I do, they will not take it lying down. In fact, in all likelihood they will be stirred to a spirit akin the famous uprising at the Eureka Stockade:
  • "The Eureka rebellion, which is often referred to as the 'Eureka Stockade' is a key event in the development of Australian democracy and Australian identity, with some people arguing that ‘Australian democracy was born at Eureka’.
  • In my opinion, what passes for Democracy in NSW, died today in Macquarie Street, Sydney.
  • Let us hope that it arises afresh, in the spirits of the people who were so disrespectfully treated today - people from Caroona, Liverpool Plains, the Upper Hunter and the Mudgee region, the Lower Hunter, the Gloucester, Stroud and Barrington Tops region, the central Coast, the Illawarra and the Southern Highlands.
Authorised by Denis Wilson, Robertson, NSW.


David said...

Hi Denis,
Yep, same old same old.
We drive for greater economic growth, build our houses,despoil nature and have children who end up breathing toxic fumes and die standing up...'cause there's no room to lay down...all for the mighty dollar.
At least we are digging big holes for us all.
I was interested to read Gay's thoughts, where I have left a more in depth comment, on the matter at:


Denis Wilson said...

Hi David
You are my only commentator today.
Too heavy a message, do you think?

If I were driven by "ratings" I would have to go back to writing about Millipedes. How sad.

Fortunately I have the artistic freedom of not earning any money from my writings or photos.

What's that phrase? - "Freedom is having nothing left to lose"


geoff from barham said...

I like your post very much. I am a pastor in Barham, NSW, and here we see forests closed down spuriously and the farming under threat. I teach that while we love every creature and treat them with care on God's good earth, we are meant to live with and on and by the land and forest. I hate it when politicians stay in sectarian (eg, anti-Green) camps and don't treat an issue on its merits. You've brought that our very well.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks very much Geoff.
At Barham you would certainly see the forests and the river at close quarters.
I am pleased you are able to take a view of "living with and by and on the land and forests".
We need more people like you to speak up.
Your local Superb Parrots (of which I am fond) are being used as a political football at present, unfortunately. On all sides we are surrounded by politicians who have forgotten that they were once real people.
You might note on my blog a box in the right hand column where you can visit our Australian Water Network Group.
There are many people in the Murray-Goulburn area in particular who are campaigning on issues directly related to the things about which you speak.
If you email me at deniswilson23 (at) bigpond (dot) com I can put you in touch with some of them, if you are interested, or just send me a request to join the AWN (no cost, no obligation). But the discussion forums and "pages" are open to public to read. You can join, if you feel the desire to comment, otherwise, just check out our site from time to time.
"Water is Life" is a phrase you are probably able to appreciate.
I hope so.
Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

And now the payback to the Shooter's Party....

The Game and Feral Animal Control Bill goes through, opening National Parks to shooters; allowing Game Reserves to stock Feral Animals, and introduce new ones; and exempting the shooters even from the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act!!

When's the election?

Denis Wilson said...

Aaah, I love a naive optimist!
With the greatest of respect, the election you needed to win was held back in March 2007. And the Liberal/National Coalition lost that by default, by offering a hopeless non-alternative.
Do you really believe 2011 will serve you (us) any better?
Unless the Shooters Party were to do something really democratically constructive with their bullets....
For the record I am not advocating an armed insurgency. That would be illegal!
Besides, the Shooters Party don't feel the need to overthrow the present Government, because, as you rightly point out, they are getting everything they want from the present Mob.
+++ Hilltop Rifle Range
+++ National Parks open for hunting
Makes one wish for a new election after all, doesn't it?
Migration to New Zealand looks like a reasonable option after all.
Yours in democratic solidarity!