The community is waking up to the Coffs water crisis at a critical point. As numerous groups, candidates and actions trigger growing local awareness of the serious issues with the explosion of blueberry farming on the coast, the industry is running scared.

Here's our opinion on it all.

The industry's full-page politically-charged ad is a ham-fisted effort at reputation management that simply relies on distorting, downplaying and completely ignoring the very real community concerns that exist.

You could say it's an insult to the collective intelligence of Coffs Coast residents, and in our opinion the industry clearly thinks - and hopes - that many of us will fall for it.

We think not.

Let's take a deeper look.

The last-minute industry disinformation campaign

Who Is Berries Australia?

Before we slice and dice this, it's worth knowing that Berries Australia is a joint venture between two entities, one of which is the Australian Blueberry Growers' Association.

Who is the Vice President of that association? According to their website, none other than the Nationals candidate Gurmesh Singh:

The directors of Berries Australia are appointed by the shareholders of both entities, but the public announcement does not make it clear whether Singh is on that board too. Who knows? Who cares?

Either way it's extraordinary that a full-page politically-charged ad makes no effort to admit the connection to their favoured candidate, even while it attacks other unnamed candidates by accusing them of making 'untrue comments'.

'Contributing to the community'

Contributing what, exactly?

While the well-paid industry copywriters have settled on this as their punchy headline, they've inadvertently amplified the key problem the local community has with this industry: what it actually contributes to the broader community (not just to the direct beneficiaries).

Yes the industry contributes to the community. But profits for owners and shareholders along with some local job creation (largely low-skilled and filled by itinerant, out-of-town workers) is not the hugely positive story they seem to think it is.

It's the very negative contributions to the community that have so many locals fuming:

  • chemical spray drift harming neighbours health
  • chemical wash-off polluting our waterways and slowly killing our lakes, creeks and rivers
  • a rapacious hunger for more land and water resulting in neighbours being hassled for water licenses, bores being drilled and illegal dams being constructed.

The industry certainly is 'contributing to our community'. It just turns out there's a whole lot of negative contributions attached.

First Statement

Let's pick apart the first statement:

If we take McPherson's statement at face value, then we should assume he has no idea about the scale, depth and intensity of community anger at the industry, across the board, politically.

The community coalescing around this issue includes longtime Nationals voters, farmers and rural, semi-rural and suburban residents.

Instead of acknowledging the genuine, valid community anger - as was on display at the recent farming forum - McPherson simply reduces it all to 'false claims' to gain 'political leverage'.

It's really quite outrageous when you think about it. This industry is trying to take over the region, and is now clearly attempting to take over our politics, and it has the hide to accuse alarmed locals of pursuing 'political leverage'?

Excuse me? Because locals want clean rivers, lakes and oceans for our future generations to enjoy?

What a joke.

McPherson goes on to tell us his members are 'especially concerned' by untrue comments made by some candidates.

So concerned, in fact, that only one untrue comment is claimed and no candidates are specifically called out. A rather odd response from an industry compelled to take out a full-page ad to 'correct the record'.

What is the key outrage McPherson lasers in on? That residents would be so callous as to claim it is an 'Unregulated Industry'.

This is the same industry that:

  • requires no DA approvals for its intensive farming
  • has no regulations mandating significant buffer zones and earthworks to stop spray drift and chemical run-off
  • continues to use significant amounts of insecticides, fungicides and herbicides - many of which are banned in other parts of the world such as the EU and USA because they are carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic

What's their favoured candidate's position on the above? Gurmesh Singh is opposed to the meaningful regulation the community wants and needs, as evidenced in his responses at the recent farming forum.

In McPherson's world reasonable community demands for appropriate industry regulation are merely:

designed to put berry growers in conflict with their community

Maybe someone should share with him the recent video of illegal damming of our local creeks. It's the farming practices that are causing the conflict, not the response of citizens to those practices.

The only outrage we can find in the industry's framing of the issue here is of a type we would call 'feigned'.

Anti-farming campaign? You're having a laugh. The community opposition includes farmers and the Government's own report specifically mentions key complainants are dairy and cattle farmers.

The community campaigns are targeting - rightfully - the blueberry industry for poor farming practices and inappropriate expansion.

They're also driven specifically by facts.

The efforts are nowhere near good enough. Talk to affected neighbours about 'good relationships'? Peter, all you'd get is the same white hot anger that erupted in the farming forum.

This paragraph ends in another attempt to reverse cause (industry practices) and effect (community action), which frankly no-one's buying.

"Should be brought".

And not a note of disagreement was heard from the entire community...

While we could spend forever dissecting the rest of the propaganda piece, we'll simply note that Rachel Mackenzie's piece explicitly opposes any more regulation.

Also - the 'Myth v Fact' section?

An easily deconstructed and skewered bit of content that deserves an article all of its own.

But then again, who has the time?