Farmers can anticipate and prepare for most risks that might come their way, however, political reaction to activism is impossible to predict.FORTUNATELYmy column-writing colleague, John Carter, survived his recent encounter with a wayward hay bale, as he related in Counterpoint last week, but he might well not have been so fortunate.
For instance, had his property been in many other rural locations, rather than on a main road not far from Crookwell, he would not have been able to call for help on his mobile, because he wouldn’t have had the luxury of a signal. Many rural areas still lack the mobile coverage that townsfolk take as a given.
John lives to fight another day, but not so fortunate have been the many farmers and rural workers killed each year on the job, mostly performing everyday tasks – but in an inherently dangerous working environment.
The figures tell the story. Data compiled by Safe Work Australia and released last week show that agriculture, forestry and fishing collectively ranked as the most dangerous industry in Australia from 2003 to 2014, claiming 686 fatalities.
Most readers of this column, like the writer, could cite examples of close friends or relatives who have been part of this grim toll. And on top of the fatalities are the thousands of serious injuries resulting from farm workplace accidents.
Accidents are part and parcel of farm life.Not even ministers of the crown are immune from danger. As we read in these pages last week, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce was laid up following an argument with a Dorper sheep on his property – a timely reminder that it doesn’t have to be an 800 kilogrambovine to pose a risk to life and limb; a jolly jumbuck can do serious damage when roused.
Farmers accept the ever-present risk of accidents as “part of the job”, but it’s a risk that at least they understand, and can take steps to mitigate. The more sinister risk to their peace of mind is that posed by outside interference in their activities.
Food today is so readily available, and cheap, that urban consumers by and large are inclined to take farming and its attendant risks and trials for granted. Concern for farmers’ wellbeing has been replaced by a morbid and intrusive obsession with what goes on in farmers’ paddocks, yards and sheds.
Cranked up by repeated “revelations” on prime-time television of alleged misdeeds perpetrated by farmers and their associates against animals (and trees, rivers and the natural world at large), a cosseted coterie of urban busybodies are becoming ever more vigilant, and cunning, in their farm monitoring and lobbying activity.
And while last week’s peremptory announcement by Premier Baird of a ban on Greyhound racing wasn’t about farming, it should send shivers through the farm sector all the same, for what it says about political responsiveness to activism.
Perhaps we need another recession, or a national crisis, to restore our community sense of priorities, in a society becoming increasingly divorced from life’s realities.
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