If you didn’t notice, the Government issued its agriculture policy yesterday.

Coalition agriculture minister, the preternaturally dumb Peter McGauran, launched the $100m package, aimed at export assistance programs (not that we subsidise agriculture in Australia!), pests and feral animals, and weeds.

Farmers think it’s not enough. National Farmers Federation president David Crombie was today demanding more. In these days of promises in the tens of billions, $100m admittedly doesn’t sound much. But it comes on top of the billions showered by this Government on farmers under excuses such as drought relief, structural adjustment and protecting the Australian way of life.

Then again, this is a sector that has gamed the political system to fund its absolute sense of entitlement. It will never be satisfied.

Sadly, the weeds and pests programs won’t be extended to the National Party, the most noxious infestation in Australia’s political landscape. We cityfolk haven’t heard much of Mark Vaile, the talking knee who graces the office of Deputy Prime Minister, during the election campaign. His mainstream media appearances have been confined to riding skateboards and denying the existence of global warming.

But Vaile has been roaming regional Australia doling out the pork, primarily to farmers, but also to his mates in the road transport industry through hundreds of millions of dollars in road funding. In particular, Vaile has promised $300m for “strategic roads” in the outback.

These roads are intended virtually exclusively for the use of the mining and cattle industries, but the notion that the users of infrastructure might actually pay for it is anathema to the Nationals. Why should they when the taxpayer can cough up for it?

Admittedly, unlike the Liberals, the Nationals are honest about their shameless rorting of public policy in favour of a minority interest.

You’ll never see Janet Albrechtsen pointing out the tension between their core beliefs and their programs. Shameless rorting IS their core belief, and always has been.

The loquacious Barnaby Joyce is reported today lamenting the sense of depression in Coalition ranks at their poor polling. He blames the lack of policies you can discuss in a pub on a Friday night, which if nothing else is revealing of the Nationals’ conception of contemporary Australia. His remedy? A really BIG infrastructure announcement. In particular, the National Party’s prize boondoggle, an inland rail link through central NSW and Queensland.

An inland railway is so absurd as to make the Alice Springs-Darwin line look like a compelling business base. Nevertheless, Mark Vaile is already wasting $15m on a “scoping study”. Barnaby evidently reckons they should go all the way and spend several billion dollars building a railway from nowhere, to nowhere, for the use of precisely nobody. Sounds like the ultimate National Party election promise.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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