Greens jibe enrages farm groups

28 Jul, 2004 10:00 PM
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NATIONAL Greens leader Bob Brown has come under fire from WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) after he accused farm lobby groups of rubber-stamping government policy.

Dr Brown accused farm group officials of being silvertails, out of touch with members after comments by Victorian Farmers Federation president Paul Weller, who said the Greens leader was public enemy number one for his members.

Mr Weller cautioned rural voters against supporting the Greens at the upcoming federal election.

But he said there was no coordinated campaign to get the Green movement or Dr Brown.

"What we are doing is highlighting the policies and the impact they will have on farmers and the environment," he said.

Mr Weller said the Greens' policies were opposite to the needs of a strong rural economy and agriculture sector, including the need for land and water resource security, more flexible labour markets, freer international trade and strong economic management.

Dr Brown said Mr Weller's comments sounded like National Party rhetoric and were politically motivated in the lead-up to the federal election.

He said the Greens expected to have a candidate contesting every rural seat in Australia and the rural vote would be critical to the Greens.

"One of the reasons we are getting criticised by some of the peak groups is the rural vote for the Greens is growing," he said.

Dr Brown said some lobby group officials were out of touch with their members.

"I don't think some of those officers who are millionaire farmers do necessarily represent the average person on the farm," Dr Brown said.

"I think people who get into farmer organisations can be very rapidly co-opted by the government and ministers of the day and they are in a difficult position because they've got their people still back on the farms to represent."

WAFarmers president Trevor De Landgrafft said the organisation was not a doormat for overnment, highlighting the decision last week to split from the Grains Council of Australia (GCA) over the Iraq wheat debt.

"WAFarmers has never been backward in taking on the Federal or State governments or national representation groups when their direction conflicts with what we believe our members require," Mr De Landgrafft said.

"The Iraq wheat debt is an issue where we could see the merit of going down that path," he said.

"I guess we were nearly sold on the line but at the end of the day we had to stand up and think well is this is a fair go and it wasn't."

PGA president and National Farmers Federation (NFF) board member Barry Court rejected Dr Brown's criticism and said he had no credibility on rural issues.

"If farm lobby groups are seen to be on a similar wavelength to the Federal Government maybe they are doing such a good job the government is listening to them," he said.

"We know exactly what our members want and if the Federal Government is seen to be going along with the policies of the NFF and the PGA well that's because we've influenced them, not them influencing us."

Mr Court rejected the claim lobby groups were silvertails.

"Farmers have just gone through the biggest droughts in Australia," he said.

"They can't even afford a bloody coat let alone one with silver tails on it."

Mr De Landgrafft said he wanted to know what the Greens' policies for agriculture were, particularly on issues including right to farm, property rights and resource security.

Dr Brown said the Greens believed Australia's farmlands had to be environmentally healthy and sustainable.

"That's a big debate and one of the reasons I think we are getting a lot of support in the bush is because people in the bush not only recognise that but there are more and more farmers who practise it, but they need help," he said.

Mr Court also called for more agriculture policy detail from the Greens and urged country people not to vote for Dr Brown.

"He's got no economic sense of how the country operates," Mr Court said.

But he said the PGA had worked with the WA Greens on a regular basis about environmental and pastoral lease issues.

"We've spoken to the Greens on regular occasions because I say there are no better environmentalists around than farmers who've got to farm their land every year," he said.

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