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PacificEdge | March 27, 2017

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Farmer organisation allies with questionable legislation

Farmer organisation allies with questionable legislation
Russ Grayson

JUST AS BRIDGES were being built between farmers and a largely urban fair foods movement, a Tasmanian farmers’ organisation has supported legislation that could break them.

Support for Tasmania’s draconian Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill by the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) chief executive Jan Davis, in a statement published in the Tasmanian Times in late June 2014, seeks to legitimise protest by farmers but not by those who would bring attention to shonky farming practices that, for example, mistreat animals, and those who would disrupt workplaces. Davis writes that “The public has no more right to know what goes on in a piggery, a dairy or a poultry farm than in a family home”.

Farms are not family homes. They are industrial premises that produce food and other agricultural products. Freedom from information like Davis wants denies people the right to know what is in their food and how it is produced. This, at a time when a fair food movement is in late gestation in this country, goes against a growing public sentiment for openness, disclosure and democracy.

CHALLENGE TO FAIR FOOD MOVEMENT
For organisations like the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance and Fair Food Farmers United, a new association for farmers producing for the domestic market, the TFGA offers a conundrum.

Tasmanians are likely to defy their government regime and demonstrate against the legislation. This could stimulate a type of Tasmanian democracy movement, and even though it might not call itself that, such would be its sentiment. Were this to happen, who would these farmer-friendly organisations support? Farmers, members of an organisation supporting anti-democratic legislation, or an incipient democracy movement?

The fair food movement in Australia, as it is elsewhere, is inherently democratic in sentiment and it is likely that some of those seeking to support smaller-scale farmers by buying locally-produced foods at Tasmania’s farmers’ markets, for instance, would be the same people who the legislation is aimed at. The question is whether farmer support for the legislation, were it to grow, would weaken that urban support for local farmers and weaken the fair food movement.

Socially and in terms of influence, the numbers, of course, would lay with an urban democracy movement.Perhaps the sensible thing for the larger fair food organisations to do would be to distance themselves from the TFGA by issuing their own statements critical of it, opposing the legislation and in support of democracy.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH IMPERILLED TOO?
“Tasmanians will be shocked that buried in this proposed law is that police would have the power to arrest people based solely on a suspicion of intent to protest”, said Lara Giddings MP, Shadow Attorney-General, and Madeleine Ogilvie MP, Shadow IT and Innovation Minister.

“That could mean something as simple as a post or RSVP on social media could see someone behind bars.”

If this is true it goes against Australian law which is based on proof of guilt rather than suspicion that a crime might be committed, and is something you would find in repressive nations of the banana republic type, which the legislation threatens to make Tasmania out to be. It would be un-Australian. Were what Giddings and Ogilvie say to turn out to be true, then the TFGA puts itself and the farmers it represents in the dubious company of those who censor online freedom – company like Iran, China, Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the rest who would control what their people think and are free to say. And that’s poor company indeed.

NOT JUST THE ANIMAL RIGHTS CHALLENGE
Davis’ piece revolves around people going onto farms to video or photograph animal mistreatment. Militant animal rights activists certainly can be aggressive and their actions might well irritate farmers (and others too), however a more enlightened approach would be for farmers to openly invite animal welfare people to visit the farm so they can see that animals are kept in good conditions. Doing this would be a proactive and strategically positive move that would put militant animal rights protesters on a back foot and get around the need for the legislation to protect TFGA farmer-members.

It’s not only farmers who would be affected by the legislation. Those campaigning against bad forestry practices or industrial development would be affected by the fines and jail sentences.

Ironically, also affected would be farmers trying to prevent fracking on their farms. In a comment to Jan Davis’ statement, Peter McGlone writes that ” …if Tasmanian farmers held ‘Shut The Gate’ type protests against fracking companies they could slapped with $2000 on-the-spot fines and prison terms for repeat offenses – for protesting on their own land”. This, he writes, is because the legislation applies to ” …mining business premises whether this is on private farmland or public land.”

This is the unfortunatley self-defeating part of the TFGA’s support for bad legislation produced by an authoritarian regime.

TFGA statement: http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/pr-article/protesting-is-a-far-cry-from-privacy-invasion/

Lara Giddings and Madeleine Ogilvie’s statement: http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/pr-article/lara-giddings-madeleine-ogilvie/

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