SOUTH Australian Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick will introduce legislation to federal parliament next week proposing to ban cotton exports from Australia.
The proposal has been met with anger from Cotton Australia and ridicule from NSW Farmers.
On Thursday Senator Patrick told The Land he was “not suggesting a Soviet-style mandate of what people can and cannot grow, nor am I suggesting we do not take part in international commerce, we’ve just got to look at things in total context”.
He went on to say pulling out one crop and looking at it can be a “little bit dangerous”, adding what needed to be considered was an overall view.
By Monday morning at 7am it seemed he had changed his mind.
“We live on the driest inhabited continent on the planet yet are using our precious national water resources to produce a water intensive crop which we then export overseas so that foreign entities can profit making textiles and clothing,” he said in a statement.
“Ninety percent of cotton grown in Australia is exported and almost 20 per cent of Murry-Darling irrigation water allocation is used to grow cotton, and this does not include floodplain harvested water.
“We are quite literally sucking the life blood out of the Murray-Darling river system at the expense of downstream food producers, the towns and cities dependent on our rivers for water supply, and the overall environmental health of the river system all the way to the Coorong lagoon in South Australia,” the statement said.
“Simply looking at the (monetary) value of the crop is not the right way to look at it.”
Mr Patrick is economically illiterate I imagine.
Cotton Australia chief executive Adam Kay branded Mr Patrick’s broadside of the cotton industry a “reckless attack on rural communities and hardworking Australian farmers.
“We thoroughly condemn this move and call on the federal government and Labor to stand up for our farmers and denounce this outrageous assault on our industry.
“This is a dangerous political stunt,” Mr Kay said of Mr Patrick’s attack, who adopted Nick Xenophon’s place in the senate at Mr Xenophon’s retirement.
Mr Patrick will face his first election in 2022.
“Once again we are seeing some politicians, mainly those from South Australia where no cotton is grown, kick our hardworking growers in an attempt to score easy political points,” said Mr Kay
“These farmers are enduring one of the toughest droughts in our nation’s history and do not deserve to be targeted so unfairly. It must stop.”
NSW Farmers president James Jackson said cotton growers didn’t grow the crop because they had an ideological bent for cotton, they grew it because they had a water allocation and wanted good returns on their investment.
“There is a lot less water going into irrigated pasture these days,” he said, “people have made an economic decision to grow cotton”.
Mr Jackson said there was a real risk in Mr Patrick’s proposed legislation of introducing sovereign risk and Australia ending up at the wrong end of legal action.
“We have signed free trade agreements, they have requirements, you can’t devalue people’s investments.
“And you can’t expect to attract capital for agricultural investment if you keep changing the rules,” he said.
“Mr Patrick is economically illiterate I imagine.
“At the moment there’s a huge shift in water usage to almonds, it is what it is, it’s the actual water economy.”