by Robert J Lee
Well you have gotta hand it to Charlie, ABC Radio’s indefatigable rural reporter for the Far North. She covers a multitude of mundane, populist issues some of which really don’t affect the bush or primary industries.
Once a Liberal Party candidate for the federal seat of Leichardt, which takes in Cape York Peninsula and northern Cairns, Charlie McKillop could one day reach the soaring heights of her namesake, the Catholic Saint, Mary MacKillop.
Providing she learns how to think out of the square.
Never one to let a good story get in the way of political ideology, Charlie was remarkably noticeable by her absence on the Atherton Tablelands in the aftermath of the panama disease outbreak that could have decimated the entire banana industry.
The Australian Banana Growers Association was caught napping when word got out about the Panama outbreak at Mareeba that was later proven to be a false test by Bio-security.
But the quarantine procedures hastily stuck together by government and industry still apply and have cost growers dearly.
During the false outbreak Charlie dutifully reported every nuance of the government departments and the ABGA.
Professors of plant life, agronomists and farmers unilaterally agreed once a farm was infected with the doomsday fungus, it was curtains, all over, finito.
Then ABGA joined the chorus assuring farmers and the public that Armageddon had arrived on the Tablelands.
Then a quietly spoken soil nutritionist from the Kingaroy area contacted Katters Australian Party with the news that Panama disease was not an atomic bomb for bananas.
The KAP, fortunately had some rather experienced farmers in their ranks who had heard of the peanut grower, John Koehler from the South Burnett who 25 years ago had managed to produce exceptional dryland peanuts without any measurable occurrence of aflatoxin, caused by a fungal disease that is quite toxic if consumed.
Koehler had transformed previously unusable and ‘flogged out’ peanut paddocks into viable growing areas once again with the diligent application of minerals that were either non-existent or long-missing from most Australian soils.
News reports from the Sunshine Coast district recently carried a similar story about the ailing ginger industry that has been flayed with disease leaving most traditional growing country unusable due to a virile fungus.
Koehler and an agronomist colleague had reversed the ginger fungus problem in trial plots and increased yield by up to 1000 per cent.
The Tableland party organised a seminar at Mareeba for Mr Koehler to assist banana growers in rejuvenating their paddocks by applying the correct minerals in a balanced formula.
Local newspapers and radio stations carried different stories and were excited that “Panama is not a death sentence” as one headline declared.
This was big news in the north, that the $700 million industry could be saved.
Unfortunately Charlie and her Townsville counterpart Craig Zonka were missing in action. The ABC let down its country listeners by denying them some hope of preventing the disease to strike.
Charlie’s Liberal ideology stopped her from reporting on this proven solution for hundreds of desperate farmers.
Not to be outdone, KAP on August 31, hosted a meeting of 300 desperate and dispossessed cattle producers at Charters Towers. Smack bang in the middle of the ABC’s largest rural audience.
ABC Television News from Brisbane turned up at the Towers meeting, giving it state-wide coverage in the nightly news.
Charlie was not going to give any credit to the KAP or Bob Katter for organising such an important meeting(Cairns News Sept 3) while her ‘champions of the bush’ the Liberals tossed many hundreds of family farmers onto the scrap heap.
The meeting heard from Facebook sensation Charlie Phillott who forced the ANZ Bank to return his Winton cattle property, amid a blaze of publicity on 60 Minutes.
It seems the bank had been caught out by Katter and Phillott engaging in unlawful, asset stripping activities.
One resolution, passed unanimously, condemned the Liberal National Party’s so-called drought aid assistance package as “bullshit” and an “unwanted loan at higher than normal bank interest rates.”
Not much of a story, Charlie must have reckoned, but the three television stations and various other news services who turned up thought it was a tremendous show of force by farmers who spoke of their battle with banks and their terrorist receivers, such as Korda Mentha, locally known as the Greek mafia.
Well indeed, Charlie has missed the boat, instead reporting on humdrum issues and flogging the United Nations policy-driven Natural Resource Management group and largely meaningless and costly Landcare programs.
This jaded reporting by the ABC is its hallmark, and if you are not a blackfella, Muslim, a gay or member of the Greens, ALP or LNP, or some defrocked climate change dodo, then any important message won’t ever hit the public broadcaster’s rural airwaves.
Cairns News should say that Cairns ABC regional radio with breakfast programs such as that hosted by airwaves icon Kier Shorey are of the highest quality and perform an informative public service.