Fresh food for rural discontent

The Australian - Graham Lloyd, Enviroment Editor - 9.7.2011

DREW Hutton cuts an unlikely figure as the new Pauline Hanson. But through opposition to coal seam gas and open-cut coalmining on rural land, the Queensland Greens co-founder has forged an extraordinary political constituency that almost defies belief.

A new political disconnect has written a fresh chapter of rural discontent. The unrelenting march of open-cut mining and coal seam gas exploration of the new century has replaced deregulation and industry adjustment of the 1990s as the reform-driven existential threat to country life. Food security has become the proxy for fear of foreign capital.

For Hutton, who heads a national federation of civil disobedience groups through which thousands of landowners Lock the Gate on mining, it’s an easy sell.

“Are we going to continue tearing up our food bowl?” Hutton asks. “Why are we inviting multinational corporations to come in and tear up the Liverpool Plains, tear up the Darling Downs, tear up the Golden Triangle in central western Queensland, tear up the Hunter Valley, the Southern Highlands in NSW, the Northern Rivers and threaten the Great Artesian Basin?”

Is widespread anger in the bush over the march of coalmining, the loss of productive farmland, the spread of coal seam gas exploration and its perceived threat to the Great Artesian Basin really a proxy for much deeper political misgivings? If so, who is at fault and who has most to lose?
“This issue is morphing into really an issue about people’s empowerment. About taking on the big guys, people who don’t care, people who won’t listen, including governments.”

For Hutton, the equation is simple. “Whichever party comes out and says we will stop this madness, we will change federal legislation and introduce a food security program for this country which involves protecting our good agricultural lands and preserving parts of it for the future, that is the party that is going to do best in the next federal election.

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