Yesterday evening the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne screened an interesting documentary, Mine Your Own Business, attacking conservationist groups for harming the living standards of the world’s poor through their efforts to stop mining development.

Although heavily one-sided, the film had some important lessons for conservationists. One key message that came through is that agriculture is generally more environmentally destructive than mining; indeed, opposition to mining development has often been sponsored by large landowners who are afraid of losing their cheap labour force.

But conservationists typically find big mining companies an easier target. Despite the harm it can cause, farming retains a warm fuzzy public image that Green groups have been reluctant to challenge.

If further confirmation was needed of that lesson, it came with yesterday’s anti-Labor rally by rural interests in Melbourne, when a crowd estimated at 1,000 (by The Australian) or 1,700 (by organisers) brought their horses, trucks and tractors to town to demonstrate against the Bracks government.

It was photogenic stuff, so the saturation media coverage was to some extent understandable. But when compared with, for example, much less attention given to a considerably larger global warming rally earlier in the month, it will just confirm the protesters in their view that their interests are more important than anyone else’s: that country people are the “real” producers and the “real” Australians.

The view that only primary production matters economically went out with the Physiocrats, but it still holds sway in the bush. That’s why city people are held to be less worthy of consideration, and why the National Party still thinks of itself as mainstream and the Greens, with twice as much support, as fringe-dwellers.

But horses and tractors don’t get votes. On Saturday, Victorians will get to decide who the real fringe-dwellers are.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey