Let’s get this straight. Crikey doesn’t
hate farmers. What we’ve always hated is business welfare – and middle
class welfare, too, for that matter. Why? Because it rips of other
groups in our society: the less organised, the less powerful and less
articulate – the worse off, in other words.

All economic
decisions involve opportunity cost. That means that when money goes
somewhere, it means it gets taken from other causes. Often these are
worthy causes. Sometimes it come from something very close to our
hearts – our own pockets.

We at Crikey tend to be economic
rationalists with hearts of gold. We know that money makes the world go
round – not love – but want to make sure that people and interests
without a voice don’t get ripped off when it’s being handed out.

Adam Smith got a few facts of life right back in 1776 when he wrote The Wealth of Nations – and he put them pithily:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer,
or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their
own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but their self


“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for
merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy
against the public, or some contrivance to raise prices.”

in Australia is very different to the agriculture Smith saw in Scotland
230 years ago – but he would have heard complaints very similar to
“We’ll all been rooned, said Hanrahan, before the year is out”.

what do our farmers get? Too much to list here, it the answer – but we
have a list, thanks to the Crikey Army. It’s up on the site here.

can read all about income tax averaging for primary producers, the farm
management deposits scheme, deductible capital expenditure, the
deferment of income arising from exceptional circumstances, zone
rebates for residents of remote areas, the treatment of cooperatives,
fuel excise rebates and credits, the energy grants scheme and much,
much more.

This isn’t politics of envy stuff. Think of it as tough love – asking if our current approach to agriculture is the best.

is terrible. We need to look at its economic impact – not just on
farmers, but on the economy as a whole. We’ve moved beyond the
“Australia rides on the sheep’s’ back” mentality, but agriculture still
makes up a quarter of our exports and we remain a leading agricultural

But is the drought devastating small producers and
marginal properties without greatly affecting the overall agricultural
sector from an economic point of view? Is it helping efficiency by
encouraging consolidation?

It’s all very well to talk about turning the rivers around – but should we be reversing Australians’ popular thinking instead?