It is very interesting to look at subsidies in the car industry as opposed to the agricultural sector. Put simply the car industry are being propped up by tarriffs protection and outright subsidies.
There has been much debate over the years, in 1990 the Liberal leader Dr Hewson stated that if the car industry has to survive on tariffs and subsidies when he became Prime Minister he would cut the tariffs and subsidies. Of course the industry heavyweights were aghast and asked if Hewson wanted a car industry, to which he replied if it could stand on its own 2 feet yes he would want it.
On the other hand when Rudd came to power he handed over a massive $6 billion in subsidies, Julia Gillard for her part seems to continue down the same path.
The simple fact is if Australia wants a car industry it must be prepared to pay or bear the consequences of job losses and the skills that industry brings.
However the rural industry seems to be a very different case, where the government seems happy to sit back and watch as processors and producers continue to find the cost of production outweighs the returns.
Why are farmers having such a struggle to make ends meet? Unlike the car industry we can import food into this country that is subsidised, for example European pork and there are numerous other examples of products flooding into Australia without any tariff protection for our farmers.
When we look at other countries we import food from south-east Asian countries they use chemicals that are totally banned in Australia, and if a local producer used any of these chemicals he would find himself in a lot of trouble. Also some countries use child labour which again would never be tolerated in Australia.
It is interesting how we as a society sit back in our comfortable chairs and condone child labour, we say we want sustainable farming, less chemicals, fresher food, less food miles, eat in season food and the list goes on. Sadly the actions of the consumers just encourage the same behaviour we say we dont want, buy importing food from overseas.
So as foods continue to be imported into Australia the supermarkets and Government force local producers to test water for pathogens and producers are forced into very tight QA programs that a lot of imported food would never pass. Also producers have to sign that they pay all the wages layered down by Australian law.
If an Australian went to the local sewage station and then fertilised his crops imagine the fuss that this would cause, it would be unacceptable to the large supermarkets. It seems this practice is not uncommon in some countries and we import food from those countries.
Our checks for chemical residues in imported food, is nothing short of a disgrace and is nothing less than a double standard which adds costs to our local producers and of course this pushes the local food processor to the wall.
How many times have we seen all sorts crops rotting on the ground simply unsaleable due to imports that the Australian farmer or processor can never expect to match in price growing and processing costs.
Whilst Australian government refuses to value the contribution and earning capacity of the rural sector producers and processors will keep on falling over.
What the government must remember if we can’t have some sort of import protection against subsidies and a range of issues then agriculture will reap the benefits of stupidity.
We have the perfect opportunity to make sure that any imported food is grown and processed under the same conditions that Australian producers grow under.
The whole thing could be turned around by the two large supermarkets, the tremendous power these supermarkets can take the high moral ground and insist that all product purchased overseas has the same conditions attached to its purchase as Australian produce.
People will say this sort of arrangement will cost a fortune. The whole thing can be supplied by a QA provider that is paid for a producer or exporter in the country of origin. It must remember that both Coles and Woolworths insist on extremely tight standards for local producers and have a different rule book for imports.
If we continue to treat our rural sector as a milk cow to provide cheap food for the masses we will ensure that the economy and rural towns continue to suffer from the declining wealth of Australian agricultural sector.
We can sit back and let the farmers and processors continue to get squeezed by the supermarket duopoly and bad government decision-making, or we can make the effort to make sure that Australia can feed itself with a vibrant and profitable sector.
The Liberals and Nationals also support food imports from heavily subsidised foreign farmers and their laissez faire, deregulation policies have almost made our farmers extinct. – editor
by David Byard – Australian Beef Association