'Ma and pa' line draws fire

02 Dec, 2013 08:45 AM
Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes.
It essentially means the day of 'ma and pa farming' in Australia comes to end
Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes.

PAUL Howes has come under attack for his comments on "ma and pa farming in Australia" in the wake of the Treasurer's decision to block US agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland's (ADM) $3.4 billion takeover bid for GrainCorp.

The ag community hit back at what was seen as "patronising", "ill-informed and ignorant commentary" from the Australian Workers' Union national secretary.

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    Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, Mr Howes said "It's amazing to think that a Liberal government would make this decision... Joe Hockey's decision on Friday wiped out $1.1 billion worth of value in our economy in four hours".

    He said opposition to the deal was based on "irrational fears being spread by some members of the grain growing community".

    "We have just sent a massive signal that Australia is not interested in becoming the food bowl of Asia."

    He went on to say small-scale farming was no longer a viable model given the extreme nature of the Australian climate and the cut-throat nature of global business.

    "The Australian agribusiness sector is in dire need of whole-scale reform. We have to transform our agribusiness sector, and yes, there might be some short-term pain... but in the long-term gain for my members, for regional communities and for agribusiness workers cross the country is immense.

    "We need large scale diversified companies operating in this sector. Too often we see smaller companies going through boom and bust cycles because they are concentrated into one sector of the economy.

    "The nature of the Australian climate is you have droughts and you have floods, and if their produce is wiped out by that particular element then you have those companies falling over.

    "What we need is not too dissimilar to what exists in the US farming sector where you have large scale conglomerates that can diversify against different states and different feed stocks and take advantage of those different elements to be able to have sustainable long-term investment into the sector.

  • "It essentially means the day of 'ma and pa farming' in Australia comes to end.

    "We need to have a transformation of that, so that we can have stability and long-term planning about the types of crops and the types of different processes we will be using in this area," Mr Howes told the SkyNews panel.

    Reaction in cyberspace was swift and severe, with stakeholders blasting Mr Howes' "ignorance".

    "It may be of interest to you that the UN has designated 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming," responded Alison Fairleigh, the 2013 RIRDC Queensland Rural Woman of the Year.

    AFI director Mick Keogh hit back with a blog post that afternoon, headed "Agricultural ignorance no problem for those with an opinion about Graincorp".

    "The spate of media commentary... (has) highlighted that most Australian economic commentators are either lazy or have a pretty poor level of knowledge about Australian agriculture," he wrote.

    "But also revealed that there are some who have an almost breathtaking level of ignorance, and are not shy about revealing it.

    "The award for the most ill-informed and ignorant commentary on the issue must surely go Union leader Paul Howes."

    Mr Howes "is obviously completely unaware of the realities of the farm sectors in the USA and Australia," Mr Keogh said, going on to detail the differences between the US and Australian farm sectors (read the full piece here).

    The US State Department expressed its dis­appointment with the Treasurer's decision on Monday. As part of the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the US, a "side letter" commitment gave the two governments the right to be involved in negotiations over any ­sizeable agricultural investment in either country.

    Business groups and hedge funds have claimed the ADM rejection may deter other foreign investors from doing business in Australia.

  • What's YOUR response to Paul Howes' opinion? Post a comment below or tweet to

    using #familyfarms hashtag.

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    2/12/2013 11:06:04 AM

    ADM are one of the biggest fattest pigs in the grain trade, they are serial gougers with a criminal record and Howes gives them the time of day. Howes, resign from public office you unrepresentative swill !!!!!!
    Saxon Beagle
    2/12/2013 11:35:55 AM

    Since when is the National Secretary of the AWU an authority on Australian Agriculture? Who does he think he is??
    2/12/2013 12:01:20 PM

    If you don't know what your talking about you are best to keep your mouth shut. It just proves your ignorant and don't have AU and Australians best interests in mind.
    Holy Moly
    2/12/2013 12:03:57 PM

    Paul Howes is right on the money.
    2/12/2013 12:15:05 PM

    You can't believe a union leader. He want corporations with large work forces who pay union dues, and when one of the 'droughts' he mentions comes along and his workers get laid off, what then union man. How about you lower export terminal handling fees and see how much more productive we become. Expletive!
    2/12/2013 12:26:43 PM

    Paul wants control ! It must be a real wake up call to discover that after levelling the wool industry and all those shearers with it. Gutting the Live Export Trade and all those Union jobs with it and bringing the grains industry to its knees - there is little left for the Unions to get their teeth into. The killing of the "little pigs" is almost complete - Oh dear!
    eric hunt
    2/12/2013 1:34:07 PM

    Why would anyone take any notice of Howes lecturing anyone on protectionism? He heads the biggest protection business in the world. It is protected, insulated, artificial wages and conditions and Unionism out of control. Long gone are the days when it was about FAIR PAY for a FAIR DAYS WORK. Now it is about gouging ridiculous and unaffordable conditions out of business with no regard for the massive loss of competitiveness and manufacturing and processing jobs to overseas. And what about the crime and corruption amongst Union hierarchy in AWU and HSU particularly? Give us a break.
    2/12/2013 1:58:19 PM

    As a non farmer from rural roots and regional values, I admit to being unsure about foreign investment, but happy about the Graincorp decision. What I do know is that bigger is rarely better. We are coerced to believe life is only measured in economic terms by the big end of town and our elected reps constantly. But these are people who have six figure salaries, tax funded trips and many perks of the job. I was made redundant last year for "the common good" and the last 12 months hasn't been that good. Maybe life is not always measured by a strong economy.
    2/12/2013 2:30:53 PM

    Union man how about some of those wetback wages & conditions?
    Sir Les P
    2/12/2013 2:32:17 PM

    You would expect that comment from a Labourite with no financial or business skills, infact to find anyone with the above skills in the Labour Party in Australia you could probably count them on a sawmillers hand?
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