Winter 2020, Vol. 17, No. 2

Shifting sands: ag policy in a post-truth era

This winter edition explores a number of themes in relation to the increasingly difficult environment of policy development in a post-truth era. How is truth established in today’s world, where alternative facts and fake news are blamed by those on every side of every debate for diminishing their ‘truthful’ position? If we accept that the basis for good policy is truth, which is derived from objective facts and consensus-building through reason and logic, then the post-truth environment is anathema to good policy.

While we would like to hope this journal could help draw a line in the sand on assessment of truth to inform policy, it is likely the sands will continue to shift. The continuing development of good policy will require sustained focus and commitment from us all.

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Few weapons against post-truth – except truth

Matt Cawood

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. Buy now

Indigenous water policy: future collaborations

Dr Virginia Marshall

During the High Court trial Mabo v Queensland and the introduction of the Native Title Bill 1993 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. Since the dismantling of the National Water Commission, Indigenous interests have been sidelined – which 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. Buy now

Normally hidden from public view

N. J. Enfield

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’. Buy now

Future-proofing ag policy: the case for a National Food and Fibre Plan

Hon. Niall Blair

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. Buy now

Glyphosate and the campaign of fear

Jim Pratley

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. 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. Buy now

Quicksand and quagmires: searching for firm policy ground

Katie McRobert

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. 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? In seeking to restore the place of the ‘reasonable person’ as a benchmark in the charged arena of agricultural policy, we must examine our own biases and hold our leaders to account. Buy now