Friday, October 16, 2009

The dirty face of dairying

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, October 13.)

I CAN think of much more despicable people than the Crafar family of dairying infamy. The names of Clayton Weatherston, Graeme Burton and William Bell come to mind.

But if you were to compile a Hall of Shame listing people who had behaved appallingly without actually committing criminal offences, the names of Allan, Frank and Beth Crafar would surely be close to the top.

The Crafars are the dirty face of dairying. They are a blight on the dairying industry in the same way that paedophile priests are a blight on the Catholic Church and cops who rape are a blight on the police.

There are lots of dirty dairy farmers who don’t seem to care too much where their effluent goes, but the Crafars took it to a new level, and compounded the offence by allowing their livestock to suffer. Even dirty farmers would have balked at that.

Dairy farmers who are meticulous both about controlling pollution and caring for their animals – and there are plenty of them – would have been horrified.

The rampant growth of the dairy industry has triggered an economic boom, but in other respects it has been a catastrophe. Much of it has been driven by greed and disregard for environmental consequences, especially in regions unsuited to dairying.

The Crafars seem to have surfed the boom with very little thought about where it might lead. They just wanted more land and more cows – more! more! more! – and were prepared to mortgage themselves to the eyeballs, presumably in the expectation that milk prices would stay high forever.

They are by no means the only greedy, industrial-scale dairy farmers, but they certainly made themselves the most visible. In the end they created a monster that they couldn’t control.

I have heard apologists for the Crafars saying they have been unfairly scapegoated and demonised. The word bullshit – a highly appropriate epithet in this case – comes to mind.

The Crafars were greedy, and to make matters worse they don’t appear to be very bright. That’s a lethal combination.

* * *

THE TERM “moral panic” was coined by British sociologists in the early 1970s to describe the public reaction when something, or someone, threatens prevailing social or cultural values.

In New Zealand the term has become a catchcry of the Left, which uses it – usually with a tone of intellectual superiority – in an attempt to invalidate any concerns that are seen as reflecting the conservative values of the middle classes.

Public concern about violent crime? Moral panic, the lefties sniff derisively.

Public concern about family breakdown? Moral panic.

Public concern about P and other forms of drug abuse? Moral panic.

Public concern about boy racers and tagging? Ditto. And so on.

It’s a crafty way to dismiss legitimate concerns about anti-social behaviour. “Moral panic” conjures up an image of nervous, fretful fuddy-duddies getting their knickers in a twist unnecessarily.

Invariably, it involves issues that the vile capitalist news media are accused of blowing out of proportion in order to protect their class interests.

The irony is that the Left is very adept at whipping up moral panics of its own, when it suits. But of course it would never use the term.

The Left would never admit, for example, that the climate change scare, with its dire warnings of global apocalypse unless we all revert to a subsistence lifestyle, is moral panic on a grand scale; or that the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act was the result of a moral panic, assiduously whipped up by the Left, which associated an occasional parental smack with gross violence against children.

Then there’s the furore over alcohol abuse, as a result of which the vast majority of New Zealanders who drink responsibly are likely to be penalised because of the behaviour of a minority who can’t; and the determined campaign to regulate the advertising and sale of supposedly unhealthy food and drink. Classic moral panics, both.

The Left would have us believe it’s a moral panic if it involves protecting the interests of the majority, but not if it involves a sanctimonious elite trying to bully and frighten others into living according to their dictates. Don’t be fooled.

* * *

WHO IS this mysterious person named Te Puni Corkery, whom prime minister John Key mentioned while discussing taxpayer funding for Maori TV’s bid to screen the Rugby World Cup?

I can only conclude it must be the little-known, part-Maori half-brother of Pam, the former Alliance MP. Clearly, this is a family whose political influence runs deep.

Are there any other Corkerys lurking in the corridors of power? To use Felicity Ferret’s famous line, I think we should be told.

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