AUSTRALIA will have to rely on imported food within three to eight years, controversial Queensland MP Bob Katter told a farmers’ rally in Warrnambool yesterday.
Addressing a crowd of disgruntled south-west farmers, Mr Katter warned Australian food imports would soon exceed exports unless the government protected the nation’s agricultural industries.
“It might take three years, it might take eight, depending on the figures you look at, but it will happen,” Mr Katter said.
“We’re told that Australia will be the food bowl of Asia. The way we are going we will be the begging bowl of Asia,” Mr Katter said.
The member for Kennedy, which encompasses Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands dairying region, was in Warrnambool to address a rally of the newly formed Farmer Power group in the Warrnambool botanic gardens.
About 150 farmers gathered to hear his address, which emphasised the importance of re-regulating the dairy industry and other agricultural sectors.
Mr Katter said Australia was the odd one out in a world where the average subsidy to farmers stood at 39 per cent, according to figures from the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development.
He said deregulation was the greatest disaster to ever hit the Australian dairy industry.
“It’s essential that our agricultural industries are underpinned by a reasonable return for producers.
“If we can’t achieve that farmers won’t be able to go on.
“The only industries left will be quarrying coal and iron ore.”
Mr Katter said he had drafted legislation for regulation of the dairy industry which will soon be introduced to Parliament following its seconding by the independent member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie.
He said the ALP and Liberal National Party both had the philosophy of a free market “embedded in their genes” and that change would only occur if independents or smaller parties could inflict some pain at the election.
He said after the rally that he aimed to field candidates from his own Katter’s Australian Party in most seats at the next election.
He said candidates were already in place for 72 of the 86 seats in Queensland and that he was confident of having 20 branches up and running in Victoria by the end of February.
Impromptu speakers at the rally included Illowa farmer Rob Rowley who urged farmers to boycott Coles and Woolworths and their subsidiary companies.
“We spend millions with these companies. Spend it with the local companies and keep the money in the community,” Mr Rowley said.
The rally was followed by a tractor convoy down Liebig Street.
Farmer Power was formed last week out of a meeting at Noorat that drew 600 farmers struggling to make ends meet in the face of low milk prices, the high Australian dollar and rising input costs.