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Should Santa reward or punish agriculture and regional Australia this Christmas?

By Mick Keogh - posted Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Deciding whether or not Santa should reward or punish agriculture and regional Australia is a bit of a challenge, because like the proverbial curate's egg, both have been good in parts over the past twelve months.

Much of Australian agriculture has already been rewarded with mostly favourable climatic conditions and good commodity prices. And even though the good commodity prices have slipped a bit recently (especially for grains), this is likely to be compensated by high yields and livestock prices that are well above long-term averages. Consequently, there are probably others in the community more in need of Santa's benevolence this year.

Nevertheless, the cattle farmers in Northern Australia that were forced to needlessly endure an income drought for six months, due to the Government's decision to suspend live cattle exports to Indonesia, deserve some extra Christmas cheer. An appropriate present from Santa could be that the ABC Four Corners reporters and all those who jumped on the GetUp! "Ban live exports" bandwagon, should be forced to spend six months, without income, helping with the cattle muster in Northern Australia. This might give them a better understanding of the realities of raising families and running businesses without the benefits of modern health, education and communications services, and also the challenges associated with supplying international markets where there is limited potential to control what happens.


In regional Australia, those affected by the Queensland floods of twelve months ago are slowly putting their lives and businesses back together again, but have suffered a pretty tough year. They probably would benefit from a few rewards this Christmas – perhaps Santa could bring some good seasons without the excessive rainfall, and some cooperation from insurers to make sure they are fully compensated for the losses they insured against.

Those affected by the recent bushfires in Western Australia probably also deserve a bit of good cheer. A gift of long-lasting value for them (and others affected by bushfires over recent years) would be for the environmental groups that are so opposed to hazard reduction burning to be required to serve as volunteers for local bush fire brigades for a few years. Also, government staff making decisions about when to carry out hazard reduction burning should be given a lesson in interpreting weather forecasts, so they know when not to burn.

Another group in regional Australia that could do with a bit of cheer this festive season are those landowners who have discovered that mining companies have the right to drill wells and set up coal-seam gas infrastructure, without paying any attention to landholders concerns. Perhaps an appropriate present would be a requirement that mining companies have to first seek their agreement before drilling, that if the well is successful the landholder gets a fair share of the revenue, and that the mining company be required to put up a large guarantee that any harm caused will be fixed, and infrastructure and pipes removed at the end of the life of the well.

Irrigators and business owners living in the Murray Darling Basin, who face the threat of their businesses and communities being severely damaged by a reallocation of water to the environment, are also deserving of a bit of good cheer. What would undoubtedly cheer them up is if the armchair water experts, economists and environmentalists who are urging massive reductions in irrigation water, are required to live as a volunteer worker in the regional towns likely to be most affected for a year. And that while they are there, they be barred from eating or drinking anything produced using irrigation water.

Turning to punishment for bad behaviour, the agriculture sector in particular has been bad for failing to tell the rest of the community how good conditions and prices have generally been over recent years. An appropriate punishment might be that all leaders and spokespersons for the sector be required to commence any statement they make during 2012 with at least two sentences praising the good things that have happened in agriculture recently. Those who don't, will be punished by being forced to recite the poem, "We'll all be rooned, said Hanrahan," fifty times, and then listen to an audio loop of whining kids for one day.

The other bad behaviour that Santa needs to punish is the habit of people living in regional Australia who complain that things are so much better in the city. This behaviour should be punished by forcing that country person to take out a mortgage for a high-priced urban house, and to then being required to spend at least two hours each morning and evening travelling to and from their place of work, in peak hour traffic or on a crowded commuter train. This might help those living in regional area to better understand that every location has its good and bad aspects, and that some of the good aspects of life in regional Australia far outweigh the bad.


It might also remind them that the future of regional areas will be much more positive if residents living there extol the advantages, rather than complain about the disadvantages.

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About the Author

Mick Keogh is the Executive Director of the Australian Farm institute. The Australian Farm Institute is an independent policy research institute that carries out research into issues that impact on agriculture and regional Australia.

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