Federal Politics


Govt fiddles while a nation's dreams burn

I remember, and have mentioned it before, that when working on my family's property I was annoyed by the perennial stream of campers and shooters who would appear in every nook and cranny; many without ever asking permission. I wanted to flick them but my father was more forgiving, stating: ''How can you expect someone to love their country if you never let them set foot on it?''

Similarly, the extrapolation is that a nation should ensure that home ownership is more than a dream and an Australian can own a farm and have a future or a small business that represents the dreams of a family. This should not be quashed by the exploitative forces of market centralisation. The Nobel laureate's economic theory that endorses the aspiration of patriotism, participation and ownership may be hard to dig out of the library but it is the essence of what a nation is. It stands to reason that the desire to protect the house you own is going to be vastly more pronounced than the desire to die for the rental. If I am only ever going to be merely the paid hand, never the owner, then who the master is is only partially relevant compared with the pay.

Flag waving is all well and good, but the nation whose legislators strive to enshrine the individual's right to prosper, protecting the smaller from the unconscionable acts of the larger, is the better gauge of patriotism. The vision of Australia as a corporate farm is a sign that we have lost our soul. Imagine how our nation would have perceived returning servicemen being offered a job on a corporate farm as quid pro quo for offering their life as opposed to the offer of the soldier's settlement block. The problem is you cannot have a farm if you do not have access on fair terms to the market and a market needs a multiplicity of buyers and sellers in a transparent forum.

When legislation protects the position of the powerful to exploit the weaker rather than redress the disparity of terms, then the community loses faith in the representation of the nation. A dollar a litre of milk is exploitation. When a major retailer says it will not buy lambs from the saleyards, that destroys the lamb market. Vegetable growers being offered take-it-or-leave-it terms with no real alternative venue to market their product is a sign of complicit or inept legislators. A lessee in a shopping mall where all the terms and rent are the exclusive remit of the lessor, to the extent that they have access to your till and the more you earn the more rent they charge, is something that would be more appropriate to serfdom than the western suburbs. But, it happens.

Life is easy in politics if you just wave the flag at the appropriate time but avoid the battles that engage the established interests of market power. Labor never engaged on the rights of the individual against the market power of the large. It banged on about climate change, but that cost was just duckshoved down to the individual via their power bill. From latest observations the carbon tax has had no effect on the climate either.

What have the fruits of this been? Well, we are $262 billion in gross debt, tens of thousands of farmers have left the land, we are progressing to a mining feast or famine economic monoculture, and we have the most centralised retail sector in the Western world. Instead of helping those in business we have lumbered them with a fascination for single-handedly cooling the planet, excessive occupational health and safety laws so that the bleeding obvious now requires a ticket; a tax act that you could not jump over and an insidious divestment of the individual's right of ownership.

Inside the pomerium, the disinclination to challenge the interest of those who have benefited from exploiting small business has created a vacuum that is filled with battles against climate, new descriptions of marriage and daily scripted pieces to camera. The electorate meanwhile goes to the movies to see Abraham Lincoln. Meanwhile, the 24/7 media fascinate themselves with iterations about shades and colours of issues from the shallow end of the philosophical pool.

>> Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the federal opposition spokesman for regional development.


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