Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Bad farmer karma
One sector gets positively pampered by the federal government


Poor farmers. Threatened by a land rights claim? Here, have some money meant for Indigenous advancement to fund your defence. Battling a climate change–exacerbated drought that your National Party representative is in denial about? Here, have some funding from the NDIS – and maybe a bit more from the Emissions Reduction Fund as well. Worried that red tape–loving animal activists are putting live export markets at risk? Here, we’ll flatten the agriculture department for you. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan crimping irrigators’ profits? Don’t you worry about that … It’s a golden thread that runs through the last six years of Coalition government, but it’s beginning to unravel.

Let’s start with Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party senator who recently had to apologise for voting for Pauline Hanson’s “it’s OK to be white” motion. As The Guardian reported this morning, Scullion has given almost half a million dollars in Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding – meant to deliver outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – to three organisations fighting against land rights claims. The money, earmarked to support Indigenous cultural expression and conservation, went to the NT seafood council, cattlemen’s association and amateur fishermen’s association. Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy told The Guardian that the minister was treating the IAS as “his slush fund”. 

Last week, unveiling his $5 billion Drought Future Fund at a Canberra summit, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the government would “repurpose” $3.9 billion, sitting in the dormant Building Australia Fund, and originally set aside for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. While the government insisted the NDIS remained fully funded, disability advocates likened the move to “stealing from Peter to pay Paul”, and described it as “frightening’. National Disability Service chief executive Chris Tanti said there was a lot of anxiety about the decision and conceded it “doesn’t instil confidence”.

Today, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has announced an overhaul of his department – including creating an external watchdog – after a damning review of live export trade regulation found the bureaucracy was unwilling to use its powers to protect animals from abuse and prevent their death. According to this analysis by Fairfax Media’s Latika Bourke, the review traces the failings of the agriculture department to 2013 when former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce took over the portfolio. Joyce scrapped work to establish national animal welfare standards, which he called red tape, abolished the department’s animal welfare branch, and announced that he was cutting back the number of audits the industry would face. “No one supports animal cruelty, least of all farmers and all those reliant on the trade,” said Joyce. “But equally no one wants to see our farmers, exporters and others involved in rural industries go under if there is no market for their livestock.” The headline to Bourke’s piece reads: “Forget Barnaby Joyce’s affair - this is why he should not return to the leadership”.

The same vandalism has been evident in Barnaby Joyce’s call as drought envoy for environmental water set aside under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be diverted to farmers for drought relief, and in the nobbling of South Australia’s royal commission into allegations the plan was compromised, as The Saturday Paper’s Karen Middleton has written here, here and here.

Only a week ago, besieged Environment Minister Melissa Price told [$] Sky News that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would not necessarily be the only focus of the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF): “I’m particularly interested in the ERF with respect to how it can support farmers, we know that there is various parts of the country that are doing it tough in drought so the ERF has been able to provide a second income to many farmers. So what I’m interested in is: what else can the ERF do? There is a big focus at the moment on emissions and climate change but let me tell you, Australians are interested in other elements of the environment.”

Is there anything – any political constituency, program or principle – that the Coalition won’t do over for farmers? Just one: the mining industry. But that’s another story.

since this morning

Malcolm Turnbull will return [$] to ABC television’s Q&A next Thursday for his first media appearance since being ousted as prime minister in August.

Moderating growth in utility bills and new subsidies to services such as childcare led to softening consumer price inflation of 1.9 per cent in the year to September, according [$] to the AFR.

In a lecture yesterday on the role of the public service, Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo said public servants cannot remain outside politics and must serve the government of the day.

in case you missed it

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young tells how Greens members tried to bar her preselection after learning that she was pregnant.

The supposed ringleader of a Nationals branch-stacking operation that resulted in dozens of alleged neo-Nazi and white supremacists infiltrating the party won’t be investigated by the organisation’s ethics committee. A party source said “[they’re] teflon within the party … they are protected.”

Fairfax Media reports that Australia has triggered a trade pact worth $222 billion in a long-awaited move to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, putting the regional agreement into force as new doubts emerge over a landmark deal with Indonesia.

The Australian reports [$] that federal education minister Dan Tehan will introduce a national-interest test on research grants to “improve the public’s confidence” in the process for distributing the $3 billion that the Australian Research Council is expected to hand to university researchers in the next four years.

Also in the Oz, editor-at-large Paul Kelly writes [$] that Prime Minister Scott Morrison “has no responsible option but the abandonment of his unwise, ill-considered and dangerous pre-Wentworth by-election announcement about the option of moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem”. Meanwhile, Greg Sheridan writes [$] that Morrison must not give in to intimidation from Jakarta, which cannot have “a veto over our policy towards Israel”.

by Miriam Cosic
‘American Masters’ at the National Gallery of Australia
The best of the US, drawn from Canberra’s own collection

by Luke Goodsell
The Monthly music wrap: October 2018
Charli XCX explores pop’s frontiers, new releases from Kim Petras and Robyn, and soundtracks to ‘A Star Is Born’ and ‘Suspiria’

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?

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