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2020 Winter - Shifting sands: ag policy in a post-truth era

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Farm Policy Journal: Vol 17 No 2 2020 Winter - Full Journal - Shifting sands: ag policy in a post-truth era

Australian Farm Institute (2020), Evolving conservation agriculture, Farm Policy Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2, Winter 2020, Surry Hills, Australia.

ISSN 1449–2210 (Print)
ISSN 1449–8812 (Web)


FPJ1702B - Cawood, M (2020), Few weapons against post-truth – except truth

FPJ1702B - Cawood, M (2020), Few weapons against post-truth – except truth, in Farm Policy Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, Winter 2020, pp. 4-12, Surry Hills, Australia.

When truth is abandoned, George Orwell said, there are no lies.
If truth and falsity are sidelined as guides to veracity, people make their minds up on an issue according to how they feel about it – how it aligns with their values, their personality, the outlook of the communities they inhabit. With no single point of truth to work from, debate splinters into many opinions-as-truth, none of them objectively verifiable, and thus no common ground is possible. Democratic process becomes redundant, making space for the rule of political or armed might.
This is the threat posed by a “post-truth” world. It is a world too close for comfort for those of us who have become comfortable with the imperfect workings of democracy. In the United States, in particular, ‘merchants of doubt’ operating within and without are successfully exploiting the nation’s already deep political divisions, with devastating effects on American democracy.
This essay considers whether post-truth tactics are affecting the smaller pond of Australian agriculture. There is concern throughout the industry that post-truth strategies are being used to promote agendas that degrade the industry’s capability to produce food and fibre efficiently and sustainably.
Assessing this concern first requires that ‘post-truth’ be differentiated from all the other untruths that humanity has pressed into service. Turns out, that’s complicated.


FPJ1702C - Marshall, V (2020), Indigenous water policy: future collaborations

FPJ1702C - Marshall, V (2020), Indigenous water policy: future collaborations, in Farm Policy Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, Winter 2020, pp. 14-19, Surry Hills, Australia.

During the trial in Australia’s High Court matter Mabo v Queensland (No 2) [1992] HCA 23 and, during the introduction of the Native Title Bill 1993 (Cth) there ensued a cacophony of voices seeking to manufacture uncertainty, ridicule and fear of Indigenous title to land – which was provocative and factually incorrect. Fake news. Even at that time, 27 years ago, they could be labelled as early examples of neo-liberalistic post-truths reframing public policy on Indigenous land rights. Sixteen years ago, Australia’s water policy was significantly reshaped by the statutory repeal of common law riparian water rights by the Australian Government. By the introduction of the National Water Initiative and the Intergovernmental Agreement between the Commonwealth and the respective states and territories, the absence of a key stakeholder was evident – the Indigenous Peoples of Australia. Since the dismantling and abolishment of the National Water Commission and its biennial reporting, which reported on the implementation of national water policy reform, Indigenous interests have been sidelined. The lack of progress in accommodating Indigenous water requirements, combined with the lack of national oversight, fragments water policy and laws. The future impact in terms of collaboration towards Indigenous informed farming and agriculture practices, will be tested in the competition over water resources and the impact of extreme weather conditions.


FPJ1702D - Enfield, NJ (2020), Normally hidden from public view

FPJ1702D - Enfield, NJ (2020), Normally hidden from public view, in Farm Policy Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, Winter 2020, pp. 20-24, Surry Hills, Australia.

Hidden-camera recordings on meat industry premises raise legal and ethical issues in relation to animal welfare protections, safety considerations, trespassing, and privacy, as well as consumers’ responsibilities and duties to know about the products they consume. In the context of the ‘post truth’ crisis, some recent cases draw our attention to ways in which there can be both advantages and disadvantages to not knowing. This article explores some implications of the fact that certain things, such as lawful methods of killing animals in the meat industry, are ‘normally hidden from public view’.


FPJ1702E - Blair, N (2020), Future-proofing ag policy: the case for a National Food and Fibre Plan

FPJ1702E - Blair, N (2020), Future-proofing ag policy: the case for a National Food and Fibre Plan, in Farm Policy Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, Winter 2020, pp. 26-34, Surry Hills, Australia.

In a time of citizen journalism, a 24-hour media cycle, a revolving door for political leadership and increasing scepticism around big business and government, how can anyone know what to objectively believe? In agriculture, what to believe and what not to has never been more confusing. This is not to say we don’t have good leaders across Australian agriculture; in fact, I’d argue we have some of the best in the world. Yet the battle between spin and fact continues to put our primary industries in a precarious position. This paper looks at how policy-makers can change the tide and use facts rather than spin to set a long-term, sustainable path forward - and in doing so, tell the story that showcases the very best of Australian agriculture. 


FPJ1702F - Pratley, J (2020), Glyphosate and the campaign of fear

FPJ1702F - Pratley, J (2020), Glyphosate and the campaign of fear, in Farm Policy Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, Winter 2020, pp. 36-46, Surry Hills, Australia.

Australian agriculture has been through a revolution. Over four decades since the 1970s, it has been transformed from a dependency on the plough, with all its soil degradation consequences, to a conservation system that protects the soil but which is heavily dependent on herbicides. At the start of this period, soil erosion was rife and structural degradation of soils was occurring at all levels – soil compaction at plough depth, soil surface instability through the need to incorporate pre-emergent herbicides, and periods of lack of soil cover. A pivotal moment was the release of a report that showed the extent of the damage to soils across the nation. Coincidentally during the 1960s and 1970s, research was being undertaken to reduce this soil damage; the era of conservation agriculture had begun. 
Almost alongside this agricultural movement grew a disturbing social phenomenon: that of a destructive social agenda based on campaigns of fear, mistrust and misinformation. As a result of the abundant ‘fake news’ about the lynchpin chemical which has underpinned conservation agriculture, community attitudes towards glyphosate have become almost hysterically negative in recent years. Fact has to date proven little protection against the fears voiced so loudly and so frequently. If the campaigns succeed, then those who have the greatest need for these technologies and practices will be those who suffer most.
This paper addresses these issues in three parts: the evolution of conservation agriculture, the rise of fear and fake news, and the possible future for cropping technology. 


FPJ1702G - McRobert, K (2020), Quicksand and quagmires: searching for firm policy ground

FPJ1702G - McRobert, K (2020), Quicksand and quagmires: searching for firm policy ground, in Farm Policy Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, Winter 2020, pp. 48-52, Surry Hills, Australia.

Post-truth politicking has become the norm in Australian public life. While it’s not easy to see how such abstract constructs intersect with the daily lives of farmers, it’s vital to understand the impact. For example, if society cannot agree on a common understanding of water allocations, environmental stewardship or expectations of livestock farming, how can agricultural decision-makers make good calls? 
The confluence of facts and factoids which bombards our daily lives has changed the ways we consume and process information: people make judgements depending on how the information makes them feel. In addition, the increasing polarisation of social discourse amplifies our natural cognitive biases, as those who feel threatened look for validation in views that affirm their own.
In this environment, factious agricultural policy issues (such as chemical use and native vegetation management) are often characterised by emotive internecine debate. Given that post-truth is characterised by the trumping of facts by belief, the temptation to redress this by disregarding emotion in favour of objectivity is strong. However, truth recognises that what people think and how people feel are both important in making good decisions.
In seeking to restore the place of the ‘reasonable person’ as a benchmark for good decision-making in the charged arena of agricultural policy, we must examine our own biases and hold our leaders to account.  


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