Down, but not out

UP UNTIL now I have not made public a long-running medical problem I have endured most acutely this year.

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I am an amputee and have been struggling to overcome a bone infection since February. My leg was reamputated about a month ago and I was back in surgery this Wednesday. As a result, I am writing this blog with a wall of analgaesics and narcotics being pumped into my body.

Despite this, after the Coalition’s actions this week, I have rarely been more clear-headed about the reason I write this blog or why I co-founded the Country Party movement in December. Simply, we are not represented.

The farcical and ridiculous launch of an Agricultural White Paper timed just five days before announcing the approval of the Shenhua coal mine on the Liverpool Plains conclusively demonstrates the real agenda.

From the highest office in the land, it is clear that agriculture is relegated a long way down the political totem pole - and they take us for fools in the process.

While I am generally disappointed in the content of the White Paper and its lack of insight into the structural problems facing our sector, it is moot because the Coalition is so obviously uncommitted to truly support us anyway.

In launching the White Paper, the Prime Minister said: “One day the coal will have been dug up, the gas will have been extracted, but we will always need food and our land forever.” This was meant to infer an understanding of the importance of protecting our land and water.

This sentiment of this statement was completely contradicted just days later as his government approved the destruction of some of the most productive agricultural soils, landscapes and aquifers in the country.

The destruction associated with the Shenhua Watermark coal mine will never be recovered.

The charade of the timing of the release of the White Paper is just deception and condescension in its most blatant and basic form. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce must have known about the Shenhua decision when they spruiked their commitment to Agriculture on Saturday. We are not stupid.

In March Mr Joyce told the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) outlook conference that without coal "we go broke". This week he bleats that his hands are tied and he can do no more to prevent the next major coal mine going ahead in his own electorate.

Barnaby Joyce is first a Member of Parliament, elected to represent and advocate for his electorate. He is also a member of a Party that the Prime Minister relies on in the Senate to have any chance of passing legislation. His responsibility is to his electorate and he is part of a team that has great political power - if they ever chose to use it outside the Coalition.

Minister Joyce’s declaration that he can’t do anything about this mine is simply disingenuous. I say this because the truth is not that he can do no more, but rather that he can do no more and still keep his ministerial office. He is hamstrung by the rest of the Cabinet.

Simply, Minister Joyce has put his allegiance to Tony Abbott and the Coalition above the needs and wishes of his constituents.

In my mind, the situation is clear. If being inside the Cabinet is not delivering the results, then the Nats need to mobilise the Senate and block all legislation until this mine is stopped. Draw a line in the sand and show us your grit. Serve your constituents.

Everyday people are sick of being told what can’t be done by hapless politicians. It is time to get the job done, whatever it costs. We have not given up and our fight is not over. It would be easier with political champions who understand the problems, understand the solutions and will not give up in pursuing them, but I have no doubt we will get this one done anyway.

Groups like Lock the Gate and Liverpool Plains Youth, to name just a few, are doing a better job of raising the necessary support to block the mine than Barnaby Joyce.

I know that these groups, and the many others I haven’t mentioned like them, will do a lot more yet for the community.

Barnaby Joyce can still do more to save the Liverpool Plains. He just needs to decide that his constituency is truly more important than his mates at the big end of town.

In spite of Barnaby Joyce’s impotence, I have no doubt that the Shenhua Watermark mine will not go ahead for a range of reasons. The first and most important is the commitment of the ordinary people who are already fighting it all the way. It is critical that social and financial support keeps flowing to them now to maintain their momentum.

Government is meant to be a servant of the people. We can all be politically influential without being elected to office. We just have to decide we will not put up with the rubbish decisions we are getting from those who are supposed to serve us.

In 2011 200,000 thousand people unjustly stopped the live cattle trade by pressuring the government on a social media platform. I have no doubt that this ridiculous Watermark pantomime will mobilise an army of support to save a key food bowl, protect a pristine landscape and stop the wrong mine in the wrong place.

It is time we all took this issue seriously and commit to physically stand against this decision.

I for one will stand on the line when the time comes - and if Minister Joyce has a spine, he must too.


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