Ordinary farmers need to step up to push their stories and opinions on big issues such as live exports, vegetation management and foreign investment.
Too often the farm sector leaves politicians and professional lobby groups to drive, or hijack, important agricultural agendas when they hit the national headlines.
Speakers at a global issues forum at Beef Australia in Rockhampton have pleaded with farmers not to be shy about contacting metropolitan media to add their views to topical discussions which otherwise get dominated by vested interest groups pitching to Australia’s urban majority.
“I can guarantee, you will have a much more profound impact on a discussion than any politician or the other individuals who tend to be available to do radio or television interviews on these issues,” said broadcast journalist, Hamish Macdonald.
“We don’t have enough ordinary voices telling the wider community what the real story is on their farms.
“You have to find every opportunity to inject yourself into the debate.”
Don’t just talk to the local newspaper – talk to audiences that really need to hear your story.
Joining a panel which also included former Trade Minister Andrew Robb, Fairfax Media columnist, Peter Fitzsimons, and social trends commentator, Neer Korn, the internationally successful reporter and presenter Mr Macdonald warned without real farmers making efforts to be heard on metropolitan morning radio, or being accessible to print or television reporters “the other narrative takes hold”.
Pointing to the complex and emotive livestock export debate, he observed it was too easy for the wider public to be convinced the industry was “bad” if producers allowed the commentary to slip out of their hands.
His own recent first hand experience with beef producers had highlighted the significant efforts many farmers made to fully understand the best animal welfare options for their cattle in the live export trade, including how they were managed, shipped and processed overseas.
He said these valuable and intelligent insights were badly needed in any radio interview or talkback discussion about the trade.
“If we get the opportunity to involve a farmer in a Radio National interview rather than the leader of opposition business in the Senate, we’ll jump at it,” he said.
“Don’t just talk to the local newspaper – talk to audiences that really need to hear your story.”
Mr Robb agreed, noting 85 per cent of Australia’s population lived in five capital cities, which meant 85pc of politicians related largely to city voters concerns.
“As a general statement Australians do love farmers, but they also have little empathy with bush concerns if they don’t easily understand or relate to them – especially when they’ve got plenty of their own cost of living or transport issues to deal with each week,” he said.
The Beef Australia “disruption symposium” session’s moderator, the broadcaster and author, Paul Barry, believed farmers represented “good talent” in public debate.
“In my experience, unless you’re being offensive or taking the discussion right off the agenda, you’ll get a good reception four times out of five when you go to the trouble to make contact to put your side of the story out there.”
The forum panel’s broad discussion also touched on agricultural “disruption” topics ranging from free range eggs, palm oil and native vegetation clearing to Murray Darling Basin water sharing issues and Donald Trump.
Sydney-based Peter Fitzsimons felt he reflected the views of many Australians in believing the live sheep export debate was already over, unless the livestock industry could “show that it cares”, while Australia’s climate change denier ranks were swiftly shrinking to zero.
Mr Korn said climate and weather were so much part of the Australian identity, public opinion on climate change issues appeared to be “way ahead of the government”.