THIS appalling federal election campaign has ended as it began, with a hefty income whack for many dairy farmers — a price cut some won’t survive. Yet politicians on both sides have paid lip service, at best, to agriculture over the past eight weeks.
Remember the dining boom? The Asian century? The infant formula frenzy? The free trade deals? You know, how farmers were going to be rolling in it?
That seems fanciful now to dairy farmers who this week copped another body blow when Australia’s biggest dairy company, Murray Goulburn, announced its price for next season — which starts tomorrow — would be only $4.31 a kilogram of milk solids.
Remember, two months ago they were being paid $5.60/kg, with Murray Goulburn management giving the impression that $6/kg was on the horizon. Meanwhile costs — feed, electricity, fuel, labour — have stayed the same.
The second-biggest company, Fonterra, late last night announced an opening price of $4.75/kg — better than Murray Goulburn but still a price that farmers will struggle with.
Of course, Murray Goulburn’s announcement was full of the corporate gobbledygook we have come to expect from a company run by a board that refuses to take responsibility for what led it to this point.
Yes, global prices are at the root of the problem, but it is how that was managed that exacerbated the initial massive price drop in April. Bega and Warrnambool Cheese and Butter will pay their farmers significantly higher prices next season.
Victoria’s dairy lobby group, the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria, has described Murray Goulburn’s new price structure as a “bloody mess”.
“It is quite unclear for the average farmer out there to get their head around what they will get on farm,” said UDV president Adam Jenkins.
Meanwhile, this has occurred as politicians should have been considering the structural issues surrounding agriculture and announcing long-term policies that will try to prevent this sort of calamity.
Instead, we get opportunistic lip service from the two major parties for a sector that is meant to replace the mining boom as an income earner for the nation.
The federal Coalition has performed best when it comes to infrastructure issues, such as inland rail and road projects, but on pure agriculture it is lacking.
It may have something to do with Agriculture Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce being preoccupied with trying to keep his New England seat.
The one policy that grabbed the headlines was to move an ag chemical authority from Canberra to Barnaby’s electorate, a move no one else thinks is a good idea.
Meanwhile, Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has spent most of the campaign complaining about Barnaby — which helps no one.
And then he announces a lacklustre agriculture policy in the last week of the campaign that had a tick-the-box feel to it.
Imagine if a BHP, major IT company or even a bank collapsed during an election campaign.
The politicians would have to be physically restrained as they rushed to help.
In a campaign where we hear the word “jobs” over and over, it appears agriculture jobs are less equal than others — particularly the job called “farmer”.