Whenever a new leader comes to the helm of the National Farmers Federation I feel a sense of hope that it will bring a positive change in direction, one that we can all follow and end the nightmare of diminishing returns and higher costs for Australian farmers. Unfortunately the latest comments from Duncan Frazer have done little to shore up confidence in the organisation(NFF says low ag subsidies positive The Land Oct 3 pg. 20).For the supposed top farm organisation to say that Australia having one of the lowest levels of government support for agriculture in the world is good news for farmers beggars belief. Mr Frazer went on to state that the low levels of support for Australian farmers would force us to become more efficient. Efficiency for the Australian farmer has meant we working longer hours for less profit. Their new economic partner the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries donation $100 000 of taxpayers money have also not surprisingly added to the chorus of self-flagellation by adding that ‘the latest figures confirmed Australia’s status as one of the most competitive and efficient (that word again) agricultural markets”.
Many farmers have taken the advice get bigger or get out, including myself. While choosing the get bigger option I now look at my accounts and realise that any sensible businessman would say to me get out. It is worthwhile noting that Australia’s largest cotton producer went broke and sold to China. Our largest dairy farm recently posted a $10.3 million dollar loss and is also courting the Chinese to invest. The largest beef producer is overcome with debt and recently issued more shares in a desperate capital raising effort.
For the NFF to believe that the rest of the world will follow Australia’s lead with dropping support for agriculture is pure fantasy. In International trade talks Australian representatives basically tell the governments of Europe and the USA that we do not value our farmers and expect you to do the same it will make you more efficient in international markets. Ironically it is Europe and the USA that is exporting increasing volumes of food to Australia.
The Japanese government presides over one of the most heavily supported agricultural systems in the world. It collects through its 38.5% tariff on Australian beef about $650 million per annum. Not a bad return for counting containers of beef arriving in port.
Many realistic farmers now question why an organisation such as the NFF can maintain its position while destroying our livelihoods, the answer is compulsory unionism and government support. I use one example of this found in the accounts of the Cattle Council. A large percentage of the Cattle Councils income is derived from government handouts about $500 000 and another $580 000 in dividends from the levy reserve fund and recently another $400 000 directly from the MLA. The Cattle Council then transfers $200 000 to the NFF. So if you have ever paid tax or payed levies into the old Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation or the MLA which all who sell sheep or cattle are required by law to do then you are forced to financially support the Cattle Council NFF even if you do not agree with their policies.
The web of deceit grows even wider with Woolworths now a partner of NFF contributing $100 000 to their budget. NFF,s policy of removing domestic support and removing tariffs to allow cheap food into the country makes sense when you realise who is funding them.
The corporatisation of NFF will be their death knell, they cannot serve two masters. The NFFs absence at the ACCC grocery enquiry into the effects of the supermarket powers seems peculiar. Their inability to stand up to government policy that has been detrimental to our profitability is tragic. Explanations can be found once you trace the money flow.
As we face a new government in Australia will farmers cut a better deal? Will Ministers Joyce and Robb stand up for farmers in the international arena and develop agriculture domestically to realise its full potential. This will be achieved through increased support not diminishing support that is advocated by the NFF. The first step should be to end the compulsory unionism and tax payer support to the rogue farming organisations such as NFF and Cattle Council. Over to you Mr Joyce…