The Farmer Protest is a week of action and unrest that has resulted in the arrest of six farmers this week. Farmers have been angered over the new farm bill that they say does not protect them from having to pay for the food they produce that may be contaminated by chemicals. A representative for the farmers said that the bill is an attempt by the government to control what farmers produce. The farm bill is now in the Senate and is being considered by the majority. However, the prospect of the bill passing into law has dampened its chances.
Protests were seen across the country on the second weekend of November as a result of the passing of the farm bill. The issue at hand was the controversial farm laws that have been passed recently by the New South Wales state government. Chief Minister Bob Hawke told reporters on the first day of the strike that the laws were passed to protect the general public’s right to protest. He also implied that those who do not agree with the laws are not welcome in the state, which sparked further unrest among the farmers.
The protests were triggered by a proposal by the premier of New South Wales, John Howard, that states would start collecting rents from farmers for the use of the land. The Federal government has vehemently opposed the move, saying that it was not needed as there are plenty of resources that could solve the problem. However, this was brushed aside by the opposition, who see this as an opportunity to grab some of the revenue that they believe the poor are denied. Hawke said that the idea for the protest was started by an anti-farming lobby group, which tried to highlight the lack of funds for rural Australia.
On the first day of the farmer protest, more than one dozen people tried to block the main road in protest at the way the farmer’s had been treated. Police tried to prevent the crowd from blocking the highway by luring them with fire and deploying dogs to attack the crowd. The police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets, arresting several people and injuring many more. It was the biggest show of force seen in the Hunter Valley for many years.
On the second day of the farmer protest, farmers from all over the country travelled to Sydney to send a strong message of support to the protesters. At a press conference the group declared that they would be travelling to other parts of the country to help fight against what they called “vast injustice”. Premier Hawke said that the protest would not affect his government’s plans to introduce a $1.75 rebate for low and medium income earners. One farmer who travelled to Sydney said that he would be travelling to Brisbane to participate in the rally but was pulled out at the airport due to overcrowding. Government sources say that there will only be limited disruptions on public transport and highway systems.
The Federal Liberal Party released a statement saying that Farmer protests were legitimate civil disobedience and would not affect the country’s ability to trade freely with other countries. The party did not support the Farmer’s Association demands to halt the main stream of work. The Farmer’s Association has until Tuesday to appeal a restraining order that was granted to one of their members last week. The restraining order would prevent the association from organising any farmer protests after that date.