CURRENT issues such as the drought have highlighted the importance of a representative voice for farmers.
Many who are flat out running their businesses don’t have the time to know which buttons to push in Canberra, how to push them, or who to access to get the assistance they need to survive.
But it’s about a lot more than just drought.
The Australian Farm Institute’s (AFI) recent review highlighted specialist groups like the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association as having a particularly effective business model, due to their ability to focus on issues that impact a distinct group of producers, and therefore could more easily demonstrate a tangible benefit.
It also had the nimbleness to respond quickly to any situation.
But if we grow specialist representation at this level and let interest wane in the broader industry representatives, then who will Canberra and Macquarie Street listen to? Who is the true representative of the industry as a whole?
A single voice to deliver the overall message at State or federal level is still needed.
What’s also needed is not just nimbleness, but proactive pressure at the political level, with the farmers’ voice being heard before the ideological, or simply ill-informed, voices plant their agendas in our leaders’ ears.
Farmer advocacy groups need to have the ability to pressure Canberra and the States to make better decisions from the outset.
If the AFI is right, farmer groups might need more than just advocacy; but when it comes to options beyond advocacy, what can these groups offer that farmers can’t already get elsewhere?
And what value would these add-ons have without the advocacy?
The reluctance of many farmers during the current drought to ask for help, and even then the humbleness many showed in respecting the message that there wasn’t a lot of money to help, is possibly a clue to another part of the problem.
Farmers no longer feel valued in this society and until their representatives can make our political leaders and community understand the role and value they have to offer then how will farmers have confidence in their representative groups?
Proactive advocacy is surely key to the solution.