Christine Milne, a farmer’s daughter, finds the rural community hard to break into | Environment

For Christine Milne, a farmer’s daughter, the rural community has proven to be a tough nut to crack.

She made it a priority when she took charge of the Greens in 2012.

“I think the Greens and the bush have misunderstood each other, if you will, for some time,” Milne said at the time. “I’ll try to fix that.”

Since then, very little progress has been made. Take the recent re-election of the Western Australian Senate. Rural voters were outspoken, telling Milne they were strong Coalition voters.

When Milne pressed them on environmental issues, voters said they were very worried about the climate change they had witnessed, the warming south-west of Western Australia and the warming waters off the coast.

“Why are you voting Liberal then? ” she asked.

“Because we have always voted Liberal,” was the response.

His frustration is obvious.

“Voting is like a religion,” Milne told Guardian Australia. “It’s tribal, it’s not rational.”

Earlier this week, I wrote about the alliance of farmers and conservationists campaigning against unconventional gas development in regional areas. Some coalition supporters have expressed anger that their parties have remained silent or backed gas and mining projects, even in the face of overwhelming opposition in some regional communities.

So if sections of rural Australia are looking for another place to park their vote, will the Greens change to win that support? For example, a major sticking point among rural voters in northern New South Wales and Queensland is the Greens’ policy to end live exports.

“The thing is, you’ll never get everything from just one political party,” Milne said.

“Greens and rural communities have much more in common than the issues on which we differ. We’re not going to go into farms and force coal gas exploration. Our agricultural policy invests more in agricultural research and development.

“Live export is obviously an issue we stand out on. That said, there isn’t a farmer I know who can stand to see animals rushing onto cement and getting beat up. They love their animals and we are aware of it.

“That’s why we would like to see the slaughterhouse built in Darwin so that Australia can ship chilled beef around the world.”

Milne has toured rural areas over the past two years, including visits to landowners around mine sites, such as Moree and the Liverpool Plains in northern New South Wales, as well as Toowoomba and the Darlings Downs in Queensland. Clearly, she is banking on changing voting habits when people are directly affected and when they have personal engagement with candidates.

“One of the most profound things I heard was a 70-year-old farmer who said, ‘I spent the first 70 years building this property but I never expected to spend the last few years defend it,'” she said.

It is ironic that the development of unconventional gas presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the leader of the Greens. Milne entered politics by uniting a conservative rural community with the environmental movement when she led the campaign against the Wesley Vale pulp mill.

“Coal seam gas reminds me so much of Wesley Vale when I got involved,” she said. “It was Liberal Party territory through and through. These people were rusty, they had always voted for [former Liberal Tasmanian premier] Robin Grey.

“When they asked for help from people they had voted for, in acquiring the land, their party said, ‘Sorry, step aside, we support this pulp mill.’ It shocked them to the core that the people they had voted for forever voted them down when it came to the shiny new industrial complex.

In areas such as trade and foreign ownership, the Greens are closer to the National Party than to Labor or the Liberals these days. For example, as Tony Abbott seals his free trade deals with Korea and Japan, Milne’s concerns align more with the responses heard from certain agricultural sectors.

“No matter how efficient farmers are, they cannot compete with a country where there is no cost for environmental compliance and labor standards. These two things are not taken into account in a free trade agreement, so there is no level playing field. »

Milne claims a strong association with rural women. Her mother looked after the books on the farm and Milne says she knew the situation in the local community much better than her father.

“Women carry a great emotional burden to help on the farm, support the children and they are reluctant to share the load. Rural mental health is something they totally get because they see the effects around them.

“But now there is this new generation of rural women who are also driving value addition on the farm. They bring innovation to farms, they support diversification, solicit grants to create initiatives. It’s really interesting to me.

Although there is less support for an emissions trading system in the bush than in the city, Milne believes that removing the ETS will remove the viability of the Carbon Farming Initiative. Without a carbon price, there can be no profit for carbon farming. And she says the decision by Labor in government to scrap the biodiversity fund will have a continuing impact on the ability of rural communities to look after the land.

“Land stewardship is something the rural community wants to do,” she said. “They told me we need to restore degraded wetlands and landscapes, they want to take advantage of carbon farming.”

About Keneth T. Graves

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