Comments proved downfall

26 Feb, 2003 10:00 PM

RAMPAGING Roy Slavin and HG Nelson are well-known media personalities, who will be long remembered for their famous comment: "too much sport is barely enough."

But according to media comments, it could be claimed the state Opposition spokesman on Agriculture, Ningaloo MLA Rod Sweetman, believes that when it comes to assistance to agriculture, "barely enough assistance is too much."

Rod made it into the headlines recently by being "sacked" as the opposition agriculture spokesman, partly because of his assistance statements, but also for claiming that Agriculture Minister Kim Chance was "doing a good job."

Modern negotiators and politicians generally try to avoid offending anyone, seeking instead a "win-win" proposition where both sides are happy and no-one's sensibilities are offended.

It is a common sense approach, because most problems have points for and against and the ability to give each side a few wins can make the result both easier to achieve and longer lasting.

Occasionally, it is also possible to face a lose-lose option, one that I frequently experienced during my time in agri politics when I went public about the state of agriculture.

If I said that things were tough in the bush, someone would always complain that I was "talking down agriculture," but when I said things were good, I was accused of being "out of touch with farming."

Rod's predicament would certainly qualify as a lose-lose scenario, copping it from those farmers who believe that drought assistance has been too little, too late and from others who say he shouldn't be nice to the "enemy."

His comments also question the traditional attitude of opposition politicians who feel that they must "oppose" everything that is said, done or proposed by their political opponents.

But he has also demonstrated that a rational discussion on drought aid is unlikely to occur during a drought, when emotions are aroused and many farmers and business people are suffering financially.

Marketers are often faced with the need to "differentiate" themselves in the marketplace from their competitors, a good marketing theory as long as it is not forgotten that most people dislike change.

As long as the Liberal and National parties have remained in competition for the conservative vote, they have felt the need to differentiate themselves in the market, but it has seldom been done quite so publicly.

Rod is somewhat bemused at the furore, but remains unrepentant over his comments which were made as a result of the big protest meeting at Morawa where calls were made for extra assistance.

The meeting was seeking cash grants for all drought affected farmers, plus long term, low interest loans, both to be made without any means test or proof of need by individual farmers.

Rod is a member of that old school of economics, once espoused so vigorously by politicians like John Hyde, who have no time for any handouts, either to agriculture or other sections of the community.

Not surprisingly, John Hyde has expressed his support for the stance Rod Sweetman has taken, but what is surprising is that the comments Rod has received from farmers are running 10 to one in his favour.

A major hurdle faced by the "rationalists" is that the federal Liberals have a track record of throwing millions of dollars at affected farmers if they happen to live in NSW or Victoria.

It is hardly surprising that farmers in other states read about such actions and decide to queue up for their share, showing that all forms of disaster relief need to have an Australia-wide uniformity.

But, no matter what is the accepted wisdom, there are still farmers, politicians, business people and academics who believe that there is already too much intervention in the market place by governments of all persuasion.

They believe that intervention must not interfere with market signals or involve governments in picking winners, attitudes which, if adopted, would also target the continued existence of drought aid.

It is a debate that has taken place over many years and will continue to do so into the future and if politicians wish to take part, it makes more sense if they do it while in opposition.

No policy from any party should ever be considered safe from scrutiny, as all sacred cows should be checked regularly to see if any are getting too fat or have become barren.

Drought aid and the single desk should be on the discussion table alongside the ALP's subservient attitude to the trade unions and its continued support for compulsory unionism.

It is quite acceptable for the Leader of the Opposition to sack one of his team for making statements that are not supported by the Opposition, but it is concerning if the removal was based on merely thinking out loud, or even for encouraging debate.

Maybe time could also be found to discuss whether a politician should acknowledge a job well done by the opposition, an attitude that may be a political sin, but one that makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.



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