Rural Weekly Op-Ed “Labor forgets its roots in land clearing debate”

6 March 2016

Last week I was one of many Senators who were surprised by the sudden resignation of West Australian Senator Joe Bullock.

I was fortunate enough to know Joe through the short time he has been in the Senate.

We both served on the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (RRAT) Senate Committee that held inquiries which had significant impacts on rural Queenslanders, especially those in the sugar and beef sectors.

We travelled across the nation together as we fulfilled these committee duties.

Joe might have been a trade union official who was born in Sydney and cut his teeth in Perth, but he always showed a genuine empathy for the farmers who appeared before the RRAT committee.

In turn, Joe earned the respect of rural people through his sincere desire to understand the issues affecting their lives.

I first bonded with Joe over our shared disdain for Canberra.

Having arrived in Federal parliament at about the same time and both towards the end of our working careers, we were able to see through the rose-coloured veneer that blinds many younger arrivals to Canberra.

We both swore never to travel business class on the taxpayer dollar; we avoided the Comcar services and we told anyone who would listen that Federal parliament would never change our proud working class outlook.

Indeed, we joked that we looked so similar, and thought so similar, we could have switched seats in the Senate chamber and our colleagues would have been none the wiser.

Joe Bullock was a real, ‘old-school’ Labor man – which is, sadly, an endangered species these days.

His kind is quickly being pushed out of the Labor party by urbane, grandstanding, apparatchiks.

You know the kind – pointed booted, thin-tied peacocks who are more interested in discussing Tim Flannery’s latest manuscript while sipping vanilla soy cappuccinos from their inner city terrace than getting their hands dirty alongside a real, working man.

The Labor party has degenerated so much that it frequently steals its policies and election promises from the green playbook and all of Australia is poorer for it.

It must never be forgotten that Labor had rural origins.

Indeed the Labor party was founded by striking shearers under the shade of a ghost gum in Barcaldine in 1891.

The early battles that shaped our political scene centred on real debate about how wealth in rural communities should be distributed between landholders and workers.

As recently as 1978, Labor was able to win a ‘heartland’ National party seat, in New England, by focussing on real issues impacting rural people.

But, in the 21st century, Labor has given up on rural people. Instead, Labor calls them environmental vandals and attempts to stifle any hope of their economic development.

These days it is becoming a sad reality that North Australian landholders are being forced to factor the election of any Labor Government into their disaster management preparations.

People in rural areas have generally lower incomes, reduced access to health, education and transport services and declining employment opportunities.

After years of struggle, the staggering demand for our food and fibre in the burgeoning Asian markets is promising real economic opportunity for the bush.

Yet, just as we look set to launch, Jackie Trad and Annastacia Palaszczuk attempt to trample on our plans with their continued threats to rescind vegetation management legislation.

The land clearing debate is about providing economic opportunity to rural Queenslanders.

To deny landholders the ability to responsibly manage their properties and increase their productive capacity is economic vandalism on an unforgivable scale.

To introduce legislation to state parliament to appease green groups will only prove the Palaszczuk Government has no economic plan to improve living standards across our state.

And it will show how far the Labor party has moved away from the founding fathers of its movement.