‘You won’t ex­ist’: farm­ers’ warn­ing to Nats

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - DEN­NIS SHANA­HAN PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

The image of Michael McCor­mack stand­ing po-faced, poker-faced or stony-faced as a large, an­gry, protest­ing farmer tears strips off him out­side Par­lia­ment House is the epit­ome of the Coali­tion’s prob­lems with the drought and ru­ral Aus­tralia.

For a start, the Na­tion­als leader and Deputy Prime Min­is­ter is not pop­u­lar in ru­ral Aus­tralia. The Coali­tion’s han­dling of the drought — de­spite more than a bil­lion dol­lars in ex­tra aid — is not ap­pre­ci­ated and there is wide­spread sym­pa­thy for the farm­ers’ call for more wa­ter to grow food.

John Rus­sell, a farmer from the Vic­to­rian town of Kyabram in the Goul­burn Val­ley, con­fronted Mr McCor­mack out­side Par­lia­ment House on Tues­day and told him: “The Na­tional Party is not go­ing to ex­ist af­ter the next elec­tion un­less you grow some spine and stand up. Where’s the pas­sion? I haven’t seen any pas­sion from you. You’re like a poker player. Get up there and say this isn’t f..king good enough and get an­gry.”

Co­bram main­te­nance worker Shane Bugge clashed with McCor­mack over wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions on the river.

“I wasn’t go­ing to back down, I just told him he was sell­ing us down the river and that his party has caused all this rack and ruin,” Mr Bugge said later.

He held a sign sug­gest­ing for­mer leader Barnaby Joyce wouldn’t be able to bail the Na­tion­als out of their cri­sis.

The anger and or­gan­i­sa­tion of the farm­ers’ protests sug­gests

that the dis­sat­is­fac­tion is spawn­ing a new breed of po­lit­i­cal group.

It looks like the mil­i­tant, con­ser­va­tive, ac­tive and un­aligned “yel­low vests” of France who have tired of see­ing ac­tivists fight­ing for left-wing, so­cial causes and cli­mate change get­ting all the at­ten­tion in the cities.

This is a work­ing, green-shirt move­ment fight­ing for the right to make a liv­ing and feed the na­tion. It has the po­ten­tial to grow and splin­ter par­ties of the right or fun­nel sup­port to Pauline Han­son and her ilk.

There is also a clear per­cep­tion that it’s not just the drought that is the prob­lem. The NSW Na­tion­als are fed up with the fed­eral Na­tion­als’ lead­er­ship and the NSW Coali­tion govern­ment is split­ting from the Mor­ri­son govern­ment on wa­ter man­age­ment.

The Na­tion­als are di­vided and Scott Mor­ri­son’s per­sonal sup­port is not enough to quell the anger in the bush.

The Prime Min­is­ter has done much to help farm­ers since be­com­ing Lib­eral leader but his own pop­u­lar­ity in ru­ral and re­gional Aus­tralia only high­lights the weak­ness of his Coali­tion part­ner.

The plac­ards and slo­gans on the side of hay trucks say­ing they are fight­ing a “man-made drought” are not re­fer­ring to man-made cli­mate change but the mis­al­lo­ca­tion and cor­po­rate ex­ploita­tion of wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions made all the more pre­cious by the drought.

These are the hith­erto quiet — and un­ac­knowl­edged — work­ing Aus­tralians who only six months ago de­liv­ered govern­ment to the Coali­tion in ru­ral Aus­tralia, in the Rive­rina, western Queens­land, Tas­ma­nia and Vic­to­ria.

Yet in the fi­nal par­lia­men­tary week of 2019 they are be­sieg­ing Par­lia­ment House, mak­ing McCor­mack look like an in­ef­fec­tual goose, get­ting a re­view of wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion rights, caus­ing a split be­tween the NSW and fed­eral Coali­tion gov­ern­ments and, like the red bon­nets and yel­low vests of France, vy­ing with the Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion cli­mate change ac­tivists for public at­ten­tion and govern­ment de­ci­sions. When Na­tion­als lead­ers have trav­elled to France, their party has been de­scribed as a “peas­ant” party. Well, the peas­ants are re­volt­ing, they want wa­ter, bread and the heads of the Na­tion­als. Not even Barnaby Joyce is seen as a saviour.

All of this in one mo­ment of un­al­loyed pas­sion com­bined with a po­lit­i­cal bland­ness so de­ter­mined and with­out an­swers it was to­tally neg­a­tive.

KYM SMITH

Vic­to­rian farmer Shane Bugge con­fronts Na­tion­als leader Michael McCor­mack out­side Par­lia­ment House on Tues­day

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