According to the banner on the Australian Country Alliance‘s homepage, they are all about Local Issues, and these centre around ‘Rural – Regional – Recreational’, ‘Traditional values’, ‘Water – Energy – Telecommunications’, and ‘Access to Government Services’.
At first glance, then, it looks as though they are positioning themselves as the new National Party, since the existing one, in Coalition with the Liberal Government, is not always able to achieve very much for its constituents. But perhaps I am being unfair?
Their central statement on the front page contains a similar message:
The Australian Country Alliance understands country and urban life. We recognise small business and the strength of local communities is the lifeblood for our our families and way of life.
We believe in the right to recreational activities such as camping, fishing, boating, 4×4, prospecting and shooting.
We are here to ensure greater access to the things that matter to us such as education, transport and health services.
Did you notice the bit where they slipped in the fishing and shooting and such? Well, if you didn’t, that’s OK, because there are then two video ads about how the ACA is the only group that will fight to protect your children’s right to do the fun stuff you did when you were a kid, namely shooting, fishing, camping, 4×4, and so forth. One might be excused for wondering if this was perhaps their biggest priority (at least, I hope one might, since I’m certainly wondering). Another big priority, judging by slogans and their news page, and one for which I admittedly have more sympathy, is regional railways.
So, let’s have a look at their preferences. The Country Alliance is clearly trying to make me sad, because they have different preferences on every ticket. The one absolute constant is the three parties at the bottom of the ticket, which are the Animal Justice Party, Palmer United, and last of all, the Greens. The Greens and AJP are no surprise, but I’m not sure how Palmer managed to annoy them so much (I mean, there are many, many possibilities, but I don’t know which one specifically was the culprit here). The top of the ticket is a combination of Libertarian and Christian parties, with the Liberals being preferenced ahead of Labor everywhere. Particular favourites seem to be the Liberal Democrats, the DLP, Family First, and People Power, though Vote 1 Local Jobs gets a good showing, and the Shooters are always in the top five. Bizarrely, the Sex Party is also sitting high on most tickets, cheek-by-jowl with the Australian Christians.
The ACA has a raft of policies in a good range of areas that scream ‘conservative rural values’ (which is not a complaint – I’m pretty sure that this is precisely what they are trying to scream). So we will be hearing about agriculture, education, efficient government, health, infrastructure, law and order, recreation, small business, and timber.
Just for fun, I’m going to start with their Timber policy, which I am going to quote in full:
We’re for a sustainable timber industry.
However those who chain themselves to logging trucks are doing several things. First, they are ignoring that trees grow and the timber industry is sustainable. Secondly they ignore using timber means locking away carbon. Thirdly they ignore the simple fact that thinning in water catchments means a reduced risk of fire activity in the area which can have a significant adverse impact on the communities depending on those water resources. They ignore the many families, businesses and communities that can’t survive without logging.
There is no downside to logging done right. The only downside is that the industry attracts people who want to ignore the benefits and chain themselves to trucks in the pursuit of some radical political ideology.
We do not support any more national parks. We will do everything we can to support and grow the timber industry. End of story.
What I like about this policy is that it gives you such a strong sense of the people writing it. It’s no-nonsense, down-to-earth, here’s where we stand, like it or lump it. What I don’t like about the policy is… probably the policy, actually. I’m not quite sure that carbon sequestration works the way they think it does. Having said that, I will admit to not knowing much about this issue, so I’m just going to sit here raising a slightly suspicious eyebrow but make no further judgment.
So, what else do we have here? Under agriculture, there are some excellent policies about better food labelling so that we know where our food comes from and what is in it, and restrictions on importing food. As a farmers’ market girl, I am happy to support this. They also want better funding for agricultural research and better and more equitable management of water resources. One day, I’m going to get to the bottom of how water is managed in Australia, since it is obviously a vital part of every farming conversation, and I’m totally ignorant. They are also in favour of live export of animals. Here’s another quotable quote:
The Gillard Government’s reaction to the live trade export at the whim of animal rights groups was deplorable. It compromised our businesses, our communities and our economy. The problem is some animal welfare groups are more interested in animal politics than the animals themselves and that has become obvious including with a high profile animal rights group that somehow manages to continue receiving government funding.
Any decent farmer will tell you that the welfare of their animals is paramount to the health of their business. It’s basic logic. ACA supports good animal welfare practices which sit well with our need to export. These standards need to be set by government and not influenced by self-interest groups.
Something tells me that the ACA does not have many friends in the Animal Justice Party.
The ACA’s education policy is good – they view education as essential, and deplore cuts to the education sector and TAFE. They also want better access to affordable education and training in regional communities. And here we go:
Let’s be blunt about this. If a community lacks affordable education, then that family will need to go somewhere else. Education is a key to each and every local community yet this is not reflected in current government allocations.
It is the government’s job to ensure affordable access is available where they are needed, not where the more important votes are.
If you are getting the impression that I’m just gratuitously quoting this mob every chance I get because I love their writing style, you are absolutely correct. I think the ACA just moved a few spots up on my ballot paper for the sheer delight I am taking in their wording. Also, I am beginning to return to my earlier suspicion that someone got fed up with the National Party and decided to do better.
Under efficient and effective government, they want decentralisation of state government agencies, and they particularly want government agencies who are making policies for regional areas to go regional.
It might be horribly outrageous for them, but our government agencies need to be located where the action is. To do otherwise limits their knowledge of what they regulate to what they are seeing on TV. Their proximity to the city also exposes them to influence from groups with political agendas that bureaucrats should not be exposed to.
I am loving the sarcasm, here. Also, I do like the idea of bureaucrats being exposed to Unwholesome City Influences. Seriously, I don’t even know why I’m writing this commentary, because you should all be going straight over to the website and enjoying these policies first hand.
Under Small Business, the ACA would like less red tape, and would also like the ATO to take on some of the administrative burden for things like superannuation. They would also like to divert 10% of GST collected by Coles and Woolworths into “supporting the accounting and legal nightmares faced by small businesses and helping them to enter into better buying arrangements to make shopping locally more attractive.” I don’t know how feasible it is, but it does sound like a good idea on the face of it.
The ACA really, really likes recreation, and this is their longest policy yet. There are the expected requests for support for things like boat ramps and recreational fishing, as well as a lengthy explanation on why hunting is environmentally-friendly and socially and economically responsible. Interestingly, there is also a request to allow a limited recreational motorbike licence for 14-18 year-olds for the purposes of working on the land, and also recreation under the supervision of a fully licensed rider. I suspect there is something to be said to this – I remember the farm kids at school were all driving their family tractors and cars at home well before they were 18, because it was just practical. But I’d be concerned about offering these licences to kids in city areas, where there is more dangerous traffic to look out for, and I’m not sure of the logistics of allowing one but not the other.
Under law and order, they want mandatory sentencing for repeat violent offenders, especially those who breach restraining orders. I am not, in general, in favour of mandatory sentencing (especially not for drug offenses, which so often occur in a very complicated context of addiction and abuse), but in this context, I’m open to exploring the idea. They are also against speed cameras, and want more on-ground policing, so that police can use their judgment. Which doesn’t seem entirely consistent with their previous concern about judges using their judgment to let repeat offenders off lightly, but we can’t all be consistent all the time…
The ACA’s health policy is exactly what one might expect – better access to health services in regional areas, better resourced ambulances, overhauling our mental health system and – access to clean drinking water. Wow. I had no idea that clean drinking water was an issue in Victoria, I must say.
The bulk of our politicians come from the urban area where being able to have glass of drinkable water isn’t an issue. The rest come from major centres where they don’t have a problem. Yet many communities still don’t have access to clean drinking water.
We know making clean drinking water available to every house isn’t practicable but there are still whole communities that qualify for access to clean drinking water but do not have it. We would support any initiative that is aimed at revisiting the question of access by merit, not location.
I’m honestly gobsmacked that there is acceptance here that making clean drinking water available to every house isn’t practicable. Surely this should be a top priority? Humans need water! Come on, Country Alliance – get fierce on this issue! I know you can!
Finally, we have Infrastructure, which includes better roads, better regional rail and a better NBN and mobile phone networks. The ACA rightly points out that the current situation, in which many regional areas have no coverage “has significant human safety implications and is clearly unacceptable”.
Which is true, but I’m still stuck on the drinking water. Drinking water, people! How can we be a first-world country and not have this?
Food for thought, and an engagingly-written website to boot. The Australian Country Alliance has hidden depths, and while I certainly don’t agree with – well, quite a lot of their policies, actually – I do find myself liking their style. And I suspect that they are a party that really needs to exist.