Australia — Mountain cattlemen are freeloaders disguised as heroes by Banjo Paterson. The rich folklore of cattle in the high country is a history of a community milking a public resource to its own ends. They defend their free-ride as “tradition”; and indeed they have been hooked on gratis grass for enough generations to call it tradition. But there are third-generation welfare-dependants in high-rise flats in Australian cities who have the good grace not to laud their predicament as “tradition”.
Of course, if enough welfare junkies band together behind their inalienable right to be spoon-fed by the rest of the country they can become a political force. And there you have the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association. The Coalition, desperate to win back the seat of Gippsland East from Independent Craig Ingram in the last Victorian election, promised the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria cattle would be returned to the Alpine National Parks. The association thus campaigned strongly for the election of the Baillieu government. And Baillieu has let cattle back into the high country as a scientific trial; just to see if they might lessen the threat of bushfire.
A hundred and twenty five scientists have since written to Ted Baillieu; experts in ecology, zoology, fire regimes, wetlands and endangered species, all claiming the trials have no scientific integrity. A peer-reviewed CSIRO study in 2006 found there was no scientific evidence that cattle grazing lessened the risk of bushfire in the high country. No matter. The Victorian government says there is a ”general lack of peer-reviewed science” on the topic. There never will be enough science, if you don’t want there to be. The Institute for Cetacean Research in Japan, despite its unflagging efforts, has never told us a thing about the whale apart from that it tastes good with a dab of wasabi. Undaunted, that venerable institute’s research continues.
We can expect Ted Baillieu’s scientists will experience a similar helpful lack of progress while studying the cattle’s effect in mitigating bushfires. This will keep their research bubbling along until the next election, thereby keeping the cattle in the high country and the cattlemen and their supporters in the bag.
Listen, Ted, if you truly think a quadruped weighing a tonne will happily cohabit with native marsupials as small and fragile as your genitalia, then I challenge you to lounge in your Speedos while Aaron Sandilands and Willie Mason dance a scientifically experimental pas de deux in your lap. Sometimes the only path to truth is through the central nervous system.
I was in the fires that swept through the Victorian high country in 06-07. I left the mountains while they were still raging. Looking back I saw thunderheads boiling up out of them thousands of metres high, atomic upsurges of smoke marking atomic combustions below. It wasn’t about grass, Ted. But, then, this isn’t about bushfires, is it.
Lately there’s been this rumour going around that the Victorian Premier has been asked to address the scientific boffins at the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research at their Annual Celebration Dinner for Feigned Science in Tokyo. It’s a glittering evening, this, and always brings out the Junk Science A-List. A great honour for Ted to be invited to make the toast.
In past years Recovered Memory Syndrome experts have been feted; scientists working for Big Tobacco have delivered speeches that have proven the innocence of the itsy-bitsy cutesy-wutesy little Marlboro and compared its persecution to that of Anne Frank; climatologists in the employ of Big Oil have been showered with garlands for alleviating concerns on global warming. In 2004 the Bent Harpoon of Virtual Truth was awarded posthumously to L. Ron Hubbard. Intelligent Design has a table in the corner every year, where its professors sit pulling at the collars of their tuxedos, which chafe their necks ever redder.
This year, the rumour goes, after they have tucked into their meal of alpine-grass-fed beef and Southern Right Lab Rat, a Marine Biologist who moonlights as a sushi-chef will bring silence to the room by tapping on his glass with a knife, and Ted Baillieu will rise to speak. Towering over those professors of whale-meat he will deliver this toast, “Here’s to junk science, may it long be the nemesis of scientific integrity and the servant of politics,” he will say. “Long may the sacred word “science” be used to obfuscate and confuse an electorate, and long may its use defeat backward notions of truth that keep a man from his fortune and his feast.”
The Japanese are a polite people; none will hurrah and holler. No shouts of “Booyah” or “Get Some”. No. They will applaud politely. “Just so, Honourable Bayroo,” they will nod. “Just so. Ret the cow roam free with tradition.” And they will raise their sake` and toast a long history of bogus science used for political ends.
No one can suggest Ted Baillieu didn’t say he’d reintroduce cattle to Alpine Parks. It was a public enough deal, apparently: you Mountain Cattle dudes give me Gippsland East and I’ll get you back on welfare. But trying to hide this simple transaction behind science must be counted as his first openly cynical political act. It reminds me of the great JR Ewing of Dallas fame. When he was asked by a victim how he could live with himself he smiled and replied, “Once you lose your integrity, the rest is easy.” Politics will get easier for Ted now.
But where is the outrage in this country at stuff like this? The only protest of note I can recall in recent times was the mind-boggling March of the Midas-Touched in Perth, at which Australian civic unrest reached its comedic acme as those downtrodden billionaires, Twiggy, Gina, Clive et al, linked arms and skipped down George Street amid a throng of their dependants singing We Shall Not Be Moved and shouting for freedom … from a putative tax on the profits they make selling minerals owned by you.