Democracy and Solidarity
This is the text of my address to the Public Meeting on the Kernot Dairy, Gippsland, 12.5.15, held at RMIT Building 56, Queensberry St, Melb. 50 people were in attendance.
We’re here tonight for a political meeting. This is not about party politics; rather, it’s about politics in the deep sense, of who holds power in our society, and how that power is exercised, for whose benefit, and with what consequences.
That’s what we’re here to discuss tonight, in the very specific context of a clear intention by one corporation to transform a Gippsland dairy farm into a highly intensified system of production.
Our food system is facing a series of crises. One of them is the exploitation of vulnerable workers. Some of you may have seen the Four Corners program, Slaving Away, on Monday 4th May. It exposed the distressing and disturbing reality that significant portions of our cheap food system depend on the ruthless exploitation and abuse of migrant workers, most of whom are in this country on short-term working visas.
It’s all too easy in such circumstances to point the finger of blame at the few ‘rotten apples’, the unscrupulous labour hire contractors, or the few large farms that use their services. But the real beneficiaries are the major supermarkets, and the fast food companies, that buy these products at the lowest possible cost.
As Tammi wrote last week on the AFSA website, what this Four Corners program actually revealed is a system that’s failing, at many levels, to secure the well-being of all. These migrant workers are experiencing truly appalling treatment, without any doubt. But let’s not forget the millions of chickens and pigs in their cages in the dozens of factory farms that already exist in Australia. Let’s not forget the 1 million-plus Australians who experience food insecurity on a regular basis. Let’s not forget the millions more who suffer chronic pain and early death as a result of type 2 diabetes, and other diseases of diets based on cheap and empty calories.
Let’s not forget the farmers, who on average receive only 10 cents of every dollars’ worth of food they produce; and who feel so devalued by our cheap food culture, that they experience rates of suicide and depression at twice the national average.
This food system is failing the great majority of people, in this country and worldwide, and the non-human species that are caught up in its voracious maw of ceaseless production. But it’s not failing the handful of corporations that make a handsome profit off the misery of the majority.
And that’s the problem we face. We’ve inherited a system that’s primarily designed and operated to feed corporate profit, rather than feed people fairly. It’s all about production, for production’s sake, regardless of the consequences. That’s what the Kernot dairy issue represents, as we’ll hear shortly. It’s a choice for all of us as to what food system we want for our country: one that primarily serves large corporations and banks; or one that serves people and ecosystems.
* * * * *
We’re also hear tonight to reclaim our democratic culture, which lately has been under increasing strain. We have a journalist summarily sacked for committing the cardinal sin of criticizing the sanctification of Anzac Day. We have campaigning environmental organisations like Friends of the Earth under financial attack because they dare to mobilise communities to question the rush to frack our fertile farmlands. We have moves to criminalise animal welfare groups who dare to expose the cruelty meted out in factory farms.
At such times, it’s important that as many of us as possible stand up and speak the truth as we know it. Food sovereignty, we say, is the fundamental right of communities to democratically determine our food and farming systems. To participate in the making of decisions about who owns our farmland, and what sort of production systems should be employed. What should be grown or raised, and where and under what terms should the produce be sold? For the past few decades we have delegated all these decisions to a mythical and apparently all-powerful entity known as ‘the market’. But the market, far from being ‘free’ and a ‘level playing field’, is actually structured in favour of the largest and most powerful corporations.
How do we begin to change this? By gathering together in forums such as this, to hear directly from the producers and communities who are at the sharp end of these processes of ‘free trade’ and ‘globalisation’. By listening, and becoming informed of the issues, and what’s at stake.
And by taking action. Because that’s what this meeting is also about. Solidarity. Standing together with those who are trying to sound the alarm on what looks like a headlong rush to the intensification of dairy farming in Gippsland and elsewhere in Victoria. We have several people who’ve made the journey up the freeway to be with us tonight and share their stories with us. I’d like to invite them all to stand up now – and invite you all to give them a very warm round of applause. You are very welcome here; and we have come here tonight to support you.
But it’s also very important to remember that although the corporation that is planning the intensification of this dairy in Kernot is Chinese, we have no quarrel with the people of China. Food sovereignty is a global movement that embraces hundreds of millions of people in more than 80 countries, and it is firmly grounded in the principles of international solidarity and non-discrimination. What we oppose is a food system that privileges short-term financial gain for a tiny minority, over the long-term well-being of the vast majority of humanity, non-human species, and ecosystems everywhere. Ultimately we have one home, and it’s called Earth. And our responsibility is to adopt an ethic and a practice of care, and love, towards each other. Not only those closest to us, but those far away as well.