The Guardian May 24, 2000

Country-city alliances

The launch of an agreement between the Australian Conservation 
Foundation (ACF) and the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) calling for $60 
billion to be spent on reversing the environmental damage being done to 
farming and grazing lands in the Murray-Darling Basin by erosion and 
salinity, is a very welcome development. Environmentalists have been 
warning for many years that unless the process is reversed soon, Australia 
will face an environmental catastrophe.

The Federal Government's response to the alliance is extremely petty: 
"strange bedfellows" they say, the NFF does not represent "real farmers". 
What has irked the Government is that the two organisations have agreed 
that funding the project should not be linked to selling off the rest of 
Telstra. For Howard and Costello the sale of Telstra is obviously a much 
more urgent consideration than attending to environmental problems.

The ACF-NFF agreement shows that it is possible to bridge the city-country 
divide when it is recognised that farmers and the city have a common 
interest in overcoming environmental problems. Australia is proudly self-
sufficient in the production of its food needs, and it is in the interest 
of all who live in the cities to continue to have available the fresh 
foodstuffs that are largely produced on Australian farms. Any failure to 
deal with the environmental problems in the next few decades will put that 
in serious jeopardy.

The anti-trade union policy followed by the NFF during the MUA dispute has 
not been forgotten. However the real point is to consider the important 
issues which are held in common. The joint stand against any further 
privatisation of Telstra is an issue on which the interest of farmers 
coincide with those of the trade union movement.

Another important issue the GST. The GST is going to wreak havoc with small 
businesses, farmers and graziers alike. It will affect many living in 
country towns as well as city workers and retirees. Labor's policy of just 
"rolling back the GST" implies keeping the GST while merely tinkering with 
some of its most objectionable features. The fact is that the GST is not 
acceptable in principle and cannot be fixed.

In June, the Congress of the ACTU is to take place in Wollongong, and as 
various resolutions are being prepared it is to be hoped that the ACTU will 
consider the possibilities that have been opened up by the NFF-ACF 

We suggest a resolution that gives the ACTU Executive authority to open up 
discussions with the NFF and any other suitable farmers' and country 
organisations to work on an agreement regarding the GST, and opposition to 
any further sale of Telstra. Such an initiative would project the trade 
union movement into the leadership of national opposition to the GST and 
the further privatisation of Telstra, two of the major issues facing 
Australia at the present time.

Of course, the question will come up as to how the program of environmental 
renovation is to be financed.

Instead of selling off the remainder of Telstra, its retention by 
government would provide ongoing revenue for environmental restoration and 

The Government should throw out the GST and implement a program of 
progressive tax reforms which ensured that the big corporations and those 
on high incomes who collect unearned profits from speculative dealings or 
company profits, pay increased taxes.

With the implementation of a progressive taxation package, $60 billion 
could be raised to fund the land care program. At the same time it would 
alleviate the GST burden on those who are struggling in rural Australia, 
and ensure the continued availability of locally grown produce to the 
workers and the disadvantaged in the cities. The Federal Government should 
recognise this environmental program as a priority for all, and not hold 
Australia's future to ransom over its privatisation agenda.
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