LEON Bradley thrived on prosecuting unpopular arguments about the Australian agricultural sector but his mission and purpose was only ever about telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
And being perceived as the bad guy - in the eyes of others who were less enlightened by the facts or inclined to be loose with the truth - was just collateral damage on the pathway towards atonement.
The Bolgart farmers’ agricultural legacy extends well-beyond his central role shining a damning light on AWB corruption while championing deregulation and liberalisation of the Australian wheat export market and coarse grains in WA.
He was also one of the first active farmers and industry leaders to recognise the enormous, potential commercial and agronomic benefits of using biotechnology in the WA and Australian cropping industry.
And like he did during a lengthy struggle against the AWB monopoly, he stood up fearlessly time and again to defeat political resistance and ideological ignorance using his preferred weapons of choice – unyielding truths, water-tight logic, softly-spoken persistence and well-crafted words.
Leon passed away peacefully just before Christmas last year aged 67 following a courageous fight against cancer that started when he was first diagnosed with melanoma in 2011.
As Chair of the Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association’s (PGA) grains committee from the late 1990’s through to April 2009, when he handed over to now O’Connor federal Liberal MP and Katanning farmer Rick Wilson, he argued with vigour against the AWB single desk and highlighted its many political and economic failings.
But he also understood the value of allowing growers the choice to grow Genetically Modified (GM) crops and also prosecuted that case with unflinching determination.
Mr Wilson served as deputy-chair to Leon on the PGA Western Graingrowers for eight years, before taking over the leadership role in April 2009.
He held that role before it went to Cunderdin farmer John Snooke after he decided to focus on his political campaign, leading into the 2013 election.
During his time at the PGA, Mr Wilson observed his good friend and colleague’s intense political lobbying skills and intellectual prowess closer than most other members of the notorious committee that formed a disciplined vanguard in campaigning for national deregulation of the AWB monopoly and state regulatory grain marketing agencies.
They’ve also lobbied for commercialisation of WA’s bulk grain handling and marketing giant CBH with equal devotion – despite the rising tide of popular opinion – and backed the use of GM crops in WA’s farming paddocks, when the technology was largely misunderstood and about as popular as Kevin Rudd at a Labor party reunion.
“We never won the popular argument but Leon was never concerned about that - all he cared about was being right,” Mr Wilson said.
“The courage it took to confront the vested interests in the industry was just staggering.
“We may never have achieved what we did without Leon’s leadership and standing firm in the face of incredible opposition and pressure.”
Mr Wilson said Leon’s statement that ‘truth and logic will win out in the end’ is something he’ll forever remember.
“I cling onto that statement in moments of doubt, or for inspiration, and will take it to my grave because it’s so right,” he said.
“Leon’s one of the most remarkable intellects I’ve come across in my lifetime and he’ll always be with me in that regards.”
Mr Wilson said Leon’s belief in the unyielding passage of truth and logic ultimately winning out against emotive, fear driven arguments of others, with less admirable motives, was no better exemplified than during the early days of the GM debate in WA.
At that time, in the early 2000’s, he said “all sorts of clams were being made about Frankenstein foods”.
“But Leon held firm and always ran an argument based on science and facts and once again, he held to the principle that truth and logic would ultimately win out in the end regardless of the populist positions, taken by others,” he said.
As a champion of truth-telling, no doubt Leon would have appreciated the irony, of having passed away in the same year that Donald Trump was elected US President.
In 2016, the Oxford Dictionary also declared its word of the year was “post-truth” in reference to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.
Mr Wilson said Leon’s integrity was never compromised in prosecuting truth and fighting against the views of those with insincere motives who suffered from intellectual dishonesty.
“Leon was always accurate and his integrity was unquestioned because he was never tempted by junkets or other offerings, which he knew would compromise him,” he said.
‘In terms of the rise of post-truth in politics, this is when you need people like Leon Bradley to stand firm and tell the truth.
“When everyone else is saying something else and it may not be right, you need someone like Leon Bradley with the courage and intellect to just tell the truth.”
Calingiri farmer Gary McGill was chair of the PGA grains committee when Leon Bradley joined in the early 1990’s and showed early glimpses of his far-reaching political foresight and intellect, before he handed the role over to him in 1998.
Mr McGill said he was impressed by his friend’s “deep, perceptive ability to go to the core of an issue and there was never any thrashing around at the edges”.
“A lot of people spent a bit of time trying to get to the core of the issue but Leon was able to go straight there, dissect it, and produce an analysis and a commentary and a strategy that cut through the diatribe and distractions, to find real solutions,” he said.
“The overriding and abiding philosophy that stood him and all of us in good stead was a deep commitment to the principles of private enterprise and the overarching ideology was freedom of choice.
“Leon came from that position every time, and with everything he talked about or any issue he confronted, that philosophy and ideology was always consistent.
“He was fearless in his advocacy and he also provided great leadership to all of us.”
Mr McGill said he originally invited Leon to join the PGA to become a member of the grains committee in about 1993, due to their shared views about wheat exports deregulation and free market principles.
He said the Bolgart farmer may have carved out a nation-wide reputation for his work deregulating the AWB monopoly which was eventually realised in 2008, but was also responsible for showing critical leadership during the GM debate and battling nonsensical community resistance.
While the wheat single desk debate mostly saw farmers turning against each other over support for the government legislated system, the GM argument saw metro-centric community groups point suspicion and fears towards farmers about the product’s safety in an expanding world of consumer food politics.
“We all remember some 15-years ago when Leon came to the grains committee and said, ‘this genetic modification technology, that’s being used in the US and South America, is the way forward. This technology is scientifically proven and must be made available to Australian and Western Australian grain growers’,” Mr McGill said.
“We adopted a policy and started advocating for GM crops, long before anyone else did.
“We were pilloried and condemned for our views and there was absolutely no support for it from anybody; none of the governments, or any of the grains industry apparatus.
“There was no support whatsoever and people ran a mile from GMs at first but Leon was able to articulate the rationale and outline clearly the reasons why farmers should be able to grow it, in a sound and sensible way.”
Mr McGill said in those early days, the political and community opposition to crop biotechnology was “just sheer, unadulterated madness”.
He said “every conspiracy theory on the planet abounded at the time” but Leon’s calm disposition and rationale arguments prevailed.
“The science community recognised the technology’s value and we joined together with the scientists who were always on board - but eventually, through a long and lengthy process, Leon was proven right,” he said.
“He did some incredible work during the Gallop and Carpenter Labor years advocating for GM technology in the face of massive, legislative opposition.
“He led the way in persuading people how we should campaign about this issue.
“We worked to persuade the then opposition, the Liberal party, to change their policy on GMs and they essentially did that in the end because Leon was able to objectively articulate the science and the facts of this technology.
“They adopted a policy that has now allowed free and unfitted use of this technology.
“There’s a federal regulatory authority that we always supported to oversee the safety of GM products but now essentially there’s no legislative impediment any more in WA with the removal of the (GM Crops Free Areas Act) which was the previous legislation used to stop the technology being grown.”
Leon’s brother Brian Bradley also grew up on the farm at Bolgart and was one of the lawyers whose firm defended Kojonup farmer Mike Baxter in the infamous legal test-case involving GM canola that was pushed by his organic farming neighbour Steve Marsh in recent years.
While Leon and others close to the case had serious doubts about whether Mother Nature was responsible for the GM canola landing on Mr Marsh’s farm, to ignite the legal claim pushed by anti-GM campaigners, it was accepted, for the purposes of law, and getting the case to trial, that the swathes were blown by the wind; despite travelling extraordinarily long distances, without shattering the dried seed pods.
Brian said apart from an agricultural science degree obtained from Marcus Oldham, his brother was largely self-taught.
He said Leon read “intensely” and followed agri-economics, agri-politics and popular politics very closely.
Brian said Leon also inherited their father’s attitude of supporting free enterprise in farming who was bitterly opposed to the statutory wool reserve price scheme that “ended in disaster” and was eventually disbanded in 1991.
He said as “an intellectual person” and someone dedicated to maximising crop yields and sustainable land use on-farm, Leon’s support for GMs was a natural, logical, progressive step.
“Leon always worked with agronomists, right from his early days when he was taking over the farm from our dad,” he said.
“He was prepared to get the experts in and to sound them out and weigh it all up and follow their advice and he made sure he got the rights ones and away he went.
“Farming is a profession and like any profession you have to seek out the advice of experts and time and time again Leon was always prepared to learn from the experts and be pragmatic.”
Brian said his brother, “as a scientific person” read about GMs and formed the view that the technology was harmless to human health and the environment – but he also understood there were “enormous benefits and WA farmers should be able to grow it for their best economic interests”.
He said he stood up to vocalise and demonstrate his support for GMs because “he saw it as wrong” that a scientifically sound product was being denied, due to political reasons.
“If Leon saw something was illogical nonsense and costing farmers money, he’d rail against it and Leon saw it as wrong, that farmers weren’t being allowed to use GM canola and he asked why they should be forced to operate under an economic impediment,” he said.
“Leon, along with the other modern farmers, was critical in awakening the industry to the benefits of growing GM canola; that’s one of his great legacies.
“Leon was just so honest and he was calmly spoken, never vindictive and always argued with logic rather than emotion and he showed a lot of farmers the way.”
Brian Bradley said his brother joined other young WAFarmers like Mr Snooke to rally support behind Mike Baxter, in recognising the critical importance of the case to their industry’s future.
Brian said they understood the peril it posed to farmers’ rights to grow GM canola and the future of technological and scientific advances for other varieties suitable to climatic and agronomic conditions.
“That case was a real threat to the science of agriculture in WA,” Brian said.
“It was GM canola today but who knows what else would have been denied in the future.
“If Michael Baxter had of lost that case, we may not have had legislation go through parliament to remove the GM Crops Free Areas Act.
“A lot of young and modern farmers, with Leon and that group of people in PGA like Gary McGill and John Snooke, supported Michael Baxter and are all part of this legacy.”
Brian said if GM crops were denied, “What’s the next scientific development that’s going to be opposed by green groups that don’t think with science and are really largely influenced by an enormous amount of ill-informed propaganda with no real proper factual base?”
“You could see it in the GM canola case; the trial in effect exposed the hypocrisy of the Safe Food Foundation and the anti-GM people who supported Marsh,” he said.
Brian said the Marsh legal team’s Canadian expert avoided a question about evidence on what danger GM crops posed to human health, the environment or land and animals as it didn’t suit their case to have him answer that question.
But he said in contrast his legal team’s expert from Belgium gave evidence that all of the credible scientific research showed that there was no evidence “at all” that GM canola is unsafe “in any way”.
“That evidence was unchallenged and their expert clearly didn’t want to challenge it,” he said.
Mr Snooke said he first met Mr Bradley in 2008 when he was involved with the Producers Forum, advocating for GM canola and giving farmers choice to use the technology in WA.
“I was young and naive in a political sense and thought the world and politicians were quite pure and would just do the right thing because GM was a technology that was being used successfully elsewhere by farmers,” he said.
“But Leon was able to educate me on different aspects of trying to change government thinking and the reasons why they block things for political reasons.
“He had a profound impact on the way I speak because he educated me on many things I had no idea about and he also introduced me to libertarianism and free markets and a different way of thinking other than putting your hand-out to government to try and solve problems.
“That way of thinking was probably already inside me somewhere but Leon showed me where to find answers to many of my questions and profoundly changed my life for the better.”
Mr Snooke said at the time of seeking advice from Leon Bradley, he had a “naive idea” about trying to bring together the then Labor state government into a room for a meeting with the PGA and WAFarmers and the Liberals and Nationals to “thrash the issue out” and open the pathway for farmers being able to access GM crops.
“I simply thought it was that easy to solve the problem and was very young and naive but Leon guided me and liked the energy I had for GM technology,” he said.
Mr Snooke said Leon chaired a “great committee” and at first, after joining, he sat back and “kept my mouth shut for a number of years and just learned”.
“Leon Bradley was someone who always sought the truth and he never sought to be popular in public life,” he said.
“Leon wanted the truth and economic freedom for all because he believed that would give people a chance to prosper.
“He always said to me, ‘John, let’s try and make agriculture in WA and Australia an area of free enterprise where the heavy-hand of government was only there to protect private property rights and the big goal is to create a situation where big government was pushed to the side .
“He hated and despised big government and railed against it with every breath in public.
“I’m probably painting him as a serious fellow but he also had an incredibly sharp wit.”
Mr Snooke said while many people believed Leon Bradley’s ultimate achievement was his involvement in bringing down the single desk.
But he said for him, “Leon was a teacher above all” and taught the people closest to him how to think in different ways but also introduced good ideas around the table.
“That’s Leon’s legacy – not so much any particular issue,” he said.
“Leon was a great educator and a natural leader because he never sought popularity; only what was right and fair.
“Leon always said the WA Labor party’s attitude towards GM was a revolt against reason and you could apply that to the wheat debate and many other issues that he was involved in.
“He also said ‘if you win in politics you gain a seat but you really come second because he believed politics changed people for the worst and he hated what it did to people.
“There were many politicians who could not beat Leon in an argument.”
The story Franken-food myths slayed by humble truth-seeker Leon Bradley first appeared on Farm Online.