Dear Coal Seam Gas,
I had high hopes, I really did. My friends told me you were the clean and safe energy source of the future. You promised heaps of new jobs. Best of all, you promised to co-exist peacefully and profitably with farmland. I couldn’t wait to meet you.
But things started to go wrong as soon as you arrived. I had imagined maybe some dinner and some conversation, a chance to get to know you. But instead you just marched into Queensland and started drilling, without answering even half my questions. In fact, there are still questions you haven’t answered.
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Welcome to another instalment of I Call Bullshit, a column that looks at artful artifice, spin and skulduggery. This week we’re looking at those loud and proud new milk cartons that trumpet their ‘permeate free’ status.
It’s hard to keep up with health claims on food. Low in fat often means high in sugar. High in energy also often means high in sugar. Pictures of fruit may not necessarily indicate the presence of actual fruit.
There are swags of regulations – and state governments are looking at a national approach to tighten them further - but the food producers will seek out every inch of wriggle room they can find to convince you that their product is healthier than it actually is.
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Old-fashioned community values. A big house, with an even bigger backyard. Fresh air, no traffic and keeping your own cows and chooks. How idyllic, says the reluctant city dweller. Imagine the serenity.
But are these simple pleasures enough to drag you away from your convenient and fast paced life in the city for good?
A group of South Australian farmers from Wirrulla near Lake Eyre are hoping that it will. As long as you’re a woman. Between the ages of 20 and 60, single, and ready to settle down for a life on the farm.
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Foreign investors have been snapping at the heels of Aussie farms. In spite of Cyclone Yasi, fires, floods, supermarket wars, the carbon tax and the coal seam gas industry, more than $180m worth of blue-chip farming land has been sold in south-eastern Australia since last spring, with continued interest reported from Europe, United States and China.
In other words, the world is hungry. According to the UN, the planet has 80 million new mouths to feed and by 2050, 70 per cent of people will live in urban areas. It’s no big surprise then that everyone wants a bit of Australia.
Aussie farms are a sound investment. Of the 135,996 farms in Australia, 120,941 operate as agricultural producers. The cattle, wheat and milk industries generate 12 per cent of the national GDP, a rate that’s growing. But if we sell it all off to the highest bidder, what will that mean for the future of Australian farming?
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Put the shopping basket down and step AWAY from the dairy aisle. Admit it. You were about to buy the $1 milk weren’t you?
Why? Well, as the insidious Coles jingo bleats: “Because We All Buy Milk!” You were about to save a whole 75 cents a litre.
But you were also falling for one of the dirtiest tricks in supermarket history – a trick which is possibly threatening the viability of a major Australian industry.
It all started, ironically, on Australia Day, but let’s look at the aftermath.
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We like to think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers.
We bay for blood when a woman throws a cat in a bin in the UK, or a team of huskies is massacred in Canada, and are brought to tears when a Queensland hero risks his life in the floods to save a kangaroo from drowning.
Yet every single day there are stories in the shadows we miss.
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The release of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s guide to the Basin Plan has ignited discussion about how we manage this critical system for the long term. It has been disappointing to see over recent weeks the Coalition now walking away from reform in the basin, reform that even the previous Howard Government saw as necessary.
Coalition members are now arguing that taking action in the basin will be tantamount to choosing the environment over rural communities. This argument is based on a false dichotomy. Reforming the Murray Darling system is not a choice between the interests of producers and the environment- reform is in the interest of all those who rely on this vital river system, to secure its long-term health and viability. Indeed the aim of the Water Act is to manage our water resources in such a way as to optimise environmental, economic and social outcomes.
The worst thing that could happen for everyone in the Basin, whether it’s someone who cares about the environmental assets of the river system or a farmer wanting to continue to make a sustainable living, is for the Government to do nothing. An unmanaged and unhealthy water supply is no use to anyone.
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We are in a very interesting time in politics where malleable positions are starting to solidify.
The position on the Government’s Save The World policy, the indomitable ETS or CPRS, the Cunning Plan to make the economy RS, will in the near future no doubt deliver us another acronym so we will have a form of rolling acronyms to keep the truth at bay all the way to the second vote in November.
All the polls on the ETS prior to this period have been rather pointless because no one knew what on earth it was beyond a thought bubble that they hoped would pop and go away.
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Agriculture Minister Tony Burke claimed as an observer to the G8 Agriculture Minister’s meeting in Europe that “Australia has a major role to play in meeting the global food shortage and boosting global food security … we believe investment in agricultural research will be essential”.
Fast forward to the Budget and we find that the Rudd Government cut the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry budget by $908 million or 32 percent. Included in the cuts was the axing of the research body Land and Water Australia, 312 jobs cut and a $35.877 million cut to the Quarantine and Bio-security program.
Cutting the agriculture research budget is unforgivable – but cutting the quarantine budget is criminal. The Rudd Government’s legacy will include disease, deficits and debt.
Read all about it
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