The face of the environmental movement is changing. For years those of us who stepped forward against big business or government were discredited by being called ‘hippies’ or ‘tree huggers’ or ‘professional protesters’. Pre the climate crisis conversation, pre raging fires and crippling drought, a love for nature and a drive to protect and respect her positioned you as an enemy of the State; as someone who was taking jobs from working families. You were positioned as someone whose ludicrous beliefs were so at odds with the corporate machine and the drive into development that rather than being, by literal definition a ‘true conservative’, you were just a filthy anti-establishment fantasist. A radical.
Last week I travelled into Western NSW where I saw the evidence of a whole new breed of radicals. They’re called farmers.
Driving through the agricultural lands outside of Gunnedah I was struck by the abundance of protest signage. This was jarring. I could feel the narrative changing as quickly as the countryside I drove through. It is one thing to hold an anti-mining sign in a city street, it is quite another to see FARMS NOT COAL on grain silos. The only structure on the horizon emblazoned with a very clear message from our farming community to our government. And this was not the only sign. On the drive into Gunnedah they became more prevalent – farmers of the region using their paddocks as a place to protest. I guess it’s all you have left when your submissions to the NSW Independent Planning Commission go ignored and you are about to see your farming community transformed into a mining service centre.
In this region, two major coal and gas projects have been approved – despite a massive outcry by local farmers: the Whitehaven Vickery coal extension in Gunnedah (that will increase disturbance to the area by 20 per cent) and the Narrabri Gas Project. When your federal government has declared that our nation’s post-COVID economic strategy involves the endangering of our country’s food bowl in the great gas recovery, it’s no surprise that 22, 000 plus submissions are going to go unheard. When submissions to regulatory bodies fail, all that is left are the paddocks of your farm. I’ve travelled the country as an MC for Stop Adani protests, I’ve attended rallies, I’ve made my own submissions around our outdated energy policy, but it seems energy ‘security’ and big corporate interests win out over food security every time.
It seems our government is prepared to sacrifice sustainable farming systems, well-managed natural resources, and any pretence at policies that enhance farming productivity rather than reducing it. Yes, mining in our farmlands reduces productivity. It empties our food bowl, rather than filling it. What is the point of having secure energy when our bowls are empty? What are we heating? The LNP warchest?
The relationship between the land and our life is coming to the fore. In these farming communities recently stricken with drought, who see more drought on the horizon, the one resource that will determine their survival or demise is water. It’s the damage to ground water supply that they are most concerned about, and the fact that they will be left short of water. Many remarked that even before the drought, ground water supplies were disappearing. Mining and farming do not mix. A Boggabri farmer reflected that when farmers were hit hard during the drought, and when it came to conserving water supply, at no time did the local coal mine consider producing less coal.
I grew up in a farming community. They’re not usually anti-authoritarian. But now, they are finally speaking up, and it’s time our government, and urban Australians listened. We need to back their fight. Our farmers might just be the new hippies of the environmental movement. They are the voice we have been waiting for. Support them. Be a true ‘conservative’.