Election 2016: no serious policy for the Oz wine industry as the climate grows brutal and savage
by PHILIP WHITE
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I do believe the posh bits of the east coast of Australia just started to fall into the Pacific Ocean.
Like ancient Viking gods that feed on CO2, the evil weather warriors, Niño and Niña, are at war in a manner few understand. We’ll call this wild tide early coastal collateral damage.
Inland, it gets worse. The safe windshield through which our agriculturers once watched the oncoming climate has shattered and fallen onto their laps. Today’s growers of our food and drink seem always to have hail or dust in their eyes as they struggle through an unending list of broken weather records and the elements become more violently extreme.
The great family port manufacturers that set up the Australian wine industry, or their remnants, are herding to Tasmania, which they increasingly claim to be the last likely place in Australia where one can safely grow high-quality wine grapes.
It’s tricky. They’re reluctant to take any gloss from their previous invention, the irrigated grapeyard industry of the Murray-Darling Basin, which is regularly running out of water between floods on account of it being a desert to start with and droughts are normal.
While governments have thrown billions at the river for decades, taunting us with the promise of a fix, growers there still queue up to deliver fruit at a loss to the big refineries and bottom-feeding bladder-packers.
When these trapped, heartbroken battlers complain, politicians, who like their constituents to have a ready supply of very cheap plonk, arrange to make it easier and more efficient for the growers to get irrigation water if there’s any there.
If there’s none, they get promises.
Inexorably they follow the butchered dairy industry down the discount gurgler.
While all this is progressing, the government fires all the scientists that study and predict and teach us about the deadly changes that global warming is installing in our atmosphere and oceans and our fields.
And then they call an election.
We probably don’t expect our politicians to understand much about the intricacies of growing and making fine healthy wine, but it’s worth having a bit of a look at their ranks to check. Start with the government side of the House.
First, we have Senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham (above, centre), now the Minister for Education. Birmo should know about the wine game. He was a lobbyist for the most powerful parts of the industry for some years. In others, he was a lobbyist for the hoteliers, with their gambling dens and tap-houses and drive-bys stacked with bargain goonbags and kiddylikker.
We also have SA Senator Anne Ruston (left), Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. She’d know a bit about it: she was chief executive at the taxpayer-funded Australian National Wine Centre before they admitted it was losing money and gave it to Adelaide University for a dollar a year.
Now the Senator's back up the River, using irrigation water to feed Australia's biggest rose garden, which she owns.
Then there’s the more practically hands-on bloke, the nuclear dump proponent Senator Sean Edwards, a grape grower and director of Kirribilly Wines.
These are South Australian politicians coming to mind. They should know. So where’s their climate change policy, relative to the $5+ billion wine game?
Cross the floor. Take a look at the Opposition. The excellent Greg Combet has retired. He was one Minister for Climate Change who knew a thing or two about wine. Both his dad and grandfather were winemakers at Penfolds Minchinbury. But as senior ALP winelovers go, he could be replaced now by Don “The Godfather” Farrell, who’s dead keen to get back into the Senate. He’ # 2 on the ALP ticket.
But there’s your opposition, dear elector. Don should now know both sides of the action: as former boss of the union in charge of packing, stacking and selling a great percentage of Australia’s plonk through the Coles and Woolies duopoly, he understands the importance of keeping the lumpen proletariat’s jug full of the cheapest wine.
All this while trying to make a buck as a premium virtual winemaker in a region which stands threatened by the new heat: Goyder’s Line is marching south. And oh, pressed by the giants Treasury and Pernod-Ricard, the government’s pruning the WET rebate.
I’m not wasting time dreaming that any combination of these fine South Australian politicians could manage to work together to give us some sort of credible plan for the future of the business that everyone wants to befriend.
Where’s some actual workable policy?
It would be nice, don’t you think? Senator Xenophon would be into it.
Even watching the sides they’d finally take would be a great entertainment were it not so terribly predictable. Since they shut it down, there’s no chance of science getting a toe in.
Just so long as those silvertails moving in on Tassie get a chance to make some money before their vineyards submerge and their posh customers up the coast all wash away.
Still, some love the thrill of risk. Anyone keen to crowdfund a prime fizz vineyard on Macquarie Island? It even has a very popular beach: