In amongst the stories of genuine distress from many rural areas in Australia, the debate is emerging again of how far should we go to keep farmers on the land. The widespread acceptance that climate change is a reality which may be exacerbating current and future droughts adds an extra layer to the debate.
Agriculture Minister, Peter McGuaran, has said the government is “going to fight to save every farmer.” He has also said that “farmers “are the stewards of the natural landscape, 60 per cent of Australia’s land mass is in the hands of farmers, if they walk off the land then the land will be swept away and become barren.”
Now to top it off, the Prime Minister has said fewer farmers would damage Australia’s psyche.
“It is part of the psyche of this country, it is part of the essence of Australia to have a rural community,” Mr Howard said. “Not only would we lose massively from an economic point of view [but] we would lose something of our character. We would lose something of our identification as Australians if we ever allowed the number of farms in our nation to fall below a critical mass.”
I think it’s time for some balance in the debate. Saying we should save every farmer, that they are stewards of the natural landscape and an essential part of our national psyche is just as extreme as saying farmers are all destroying the country and sucking the taxpayer dry.
Making Holden cars in Australia used to be part of our national psyche (or at least part of the mythology that makes up a national psyche). That is no longer the case. No other industry can expect to have every single worker maintained in it, regardless of economic and environmental reality.
Nobody wants farmers and their families to starve, or the towns and communities they are a part of to close down. But no one wants people to lose their jobs when manufacturing plants close down either. There is only so far we should go in propping up economically and environmentally unviable activities. We are in a state of semi-permanent drought in some parts of the country. It would make more sense socially, economically and environmentally if we were provide adjustment assistance – whether into different activities or different areas.
We must have pretty fragile national psyche if we have to preserve it by funding farmers to keep farming economically and environmentally unviable land.