This week we have seen the dreams of many of our farmers cruelly shattered by the ruling Liberal/National coalition. The drought package offered very little hope for those who are up to their eyeballs in debt with their herds literally dying around them.
Concessional loans at 4% are useless when you have nothing coming in to pay them back.
More debt has never been the solution to a debt epidemic and I fear the problems we are facing with regards to rural suicide and indebtedness are going to get much worse.
While I agree with the free market thinking behind what the Liberal party is doing, they are implementing the free market backwards and failing to take into account the perfect storm that has led to this situation.
The farmers that are in trouble now are still reeling from the consequences of the live cattle ban in 2011. Farmers never received any meaningful compensation. Since then we have had the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) thrust upon the industry. ESCAS has had the effect of choking off many of our export markets and has therefor depressed cattle and sheep prices at home.
With the promise of a new government with friendlier ties to our neighbors and a more common sense attitude to agriculture, one can understand many farmers making the decision to try and hold onto as many animals as they could rather then give them away at bargain basement prices to meat works who had supported the live trade ban.
(So much for activist claims of farmers being "better off" without live export but I digress)
The sudden onset of dry weather and heavily stocked country in an already depressed market is a trap that will snare even the best operators. Throw in election promises of higher prices to come (through the opening of live export markets) and you have the best trap anyone could have crafted for livestock producers.
If the Liberal party wants to play free market politics they have to give the farmers the "free" part, not just the market.
ESCAS is in place because the community demands it, then let the community pay for it, for the duration of the drought let the community pay the farmer for the loss in value to their stock that this regulation causes, or abolish it and find a better model that encourages animal welfare while supporting the industry. Free market means less regulation, not more.
The federal government should also stop the RSPCA persecuting farmers and trucking companies for transporting stock in poor condition. This legislation has been a complete failure. If the animals are poor that is a good reason to put them on a truck and get them to a better place where they have a chance of surviving. Nobody likes the idea of losing half a truckload of stock because of poor condition but that is still better than the whole lot starving to death or having to be shot. Give our farmers a little credit and let them make the call, the consequences are their own to bear.
Kangaroos are another issue. They add pressure to watering points and take up valuable feed yet the farmer is forbidden to cull them when they're numbers are out of control. Once again if the community demands that the farmer maintain such a heavy burden as a kangaroo plague during a drought then the community should pay for that privilege. Drought assistance could be packaged as kangaroo agistment.
No discussion on the free market is complete without a discussion on property rights. If there is a tree on the farmers land then commonsense would dictate that the tree belongs to the farmer, not the government. The government has no business telling the farmer what they can and cannot do with their tree's and if the government wants to interfere with that right then the government should pay that farmer for the lost production.
While farmers are made examples of in this regard, mining companies seem to get away with murder.
Coal seam gas is another case where the farmers rights are often trampled. This is easily solved by dissolving the stupid state of affairs where farmers, by law, only own the top 300 millimeters of their soil and powerful mining and petroleum companies can effectively buy peoples farms right out from underneath them. The easiest solution is to give the farmers ownership of their properties all the way down to the core of the earth.
If the farmer wants to mine coal or drill for gas instead of running cattle that is their business and their choice.
Australia desperately needs free market reforms in order to keep up with the changing world we face. The previous governments dismal record at picking winners should convince any thinking person that government is too slow and ponderous to keep up with the ever increasing pace of change we will see going into the future. Only the free market can keep up. That being said free market reforms are worthless if they are not backed up with a restoration of property rights and the freedom for farmers to run their business' without government interference. Until government takes the shackles off it is only fair that the government pays for the damage it does to farm profitability and compensates producers for the damage done during the live cattle ban. Joe Hockey is known for saying "the age of entitlement is over".
It is, the government is no longer entitled to hamstring our rural businesses and trample our property rights for free.
If you want free market, give the people the freedom they need to exploit it first.