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In for their chop: ‘Minister for Beef’ rubs shoulders with a political stampede

Statewide

Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner was among 39 MPs who walked the Rockhampton Showgrounds last week for Beef 2021, opting to settle in for the whole event rather than fly-in and fly-out, a decision which earned him the title of ‘Minister for Beef’. Brad Cooper reports

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Beef Australia’s popular chairman Bryce Camm had quipped prior to the gates opening that the industry’s biggest celebration would have its own Minister for Beef, part acknowledgement for the State Government’s financial support, gratitude for its successful containment of Covid and a tip-of-the-hat to Furner’s stoic commitment to the showpiece event and the industry as a whole.

As anyone who has been to Beef Australia, held in the unofficial beef capital of Australia every three years since 1988, coming out the other end with your health intact requires the stamina and strategic thinking befitting a marathon, not a sprint.

Many an unseasoned campaigner has been brought undone by going too hard, too fast, too early.

If you weren’t among the more than 115,000 people who went to the event last week, or haven’t experienced its meaty delights over the past 33 years, how is Beef, sometimes written in all capital letters to distinguish it from the article that ends up on your plate and to emphasise its sheer scale and gravitas, best described?

One first-timer told InQueensland mid-week, sucking in the big ones as he spoke, that it was an enormous trade show with the vibe of a Calgary Stampede, where it’s quite acceptable to drink rum and coke at nine in the morning, eat your own bodyweight in steak and listen to country music as if you’re in Tamworth in January.

I can’t do any better than that.

Like the industry itself, it’s big, bold, rambunctious, diverse and dynamic, a little unwieldy at times, but never without purpose and good intent, driven by passionate and often colourful characters who may not be slick, big-city event planners, but boy, do they know how to put on a show!

After last year, which saw small country shows decimated across the country, including our own Ekka, it was something of a miracle this event happened at all, especially after Brisbane went into a snap three-day lockdown only weeks before the May 3 opening, sending shivers through the ranks of the event’s organisers who were promising a Covid-safe event.

And it’s probably not advised to show chief health officer Dr Jeanette Young any photographic evidence of all the handshakes happening over business deals and keenly anticipated reunions between friends and family long kept apart.

Or the late-night revellers jam-packed into the main lawn bar area, heavily breathing on each other amid the balmy Capricorn air and salivating liberally over their cans of Great Northern.

But the hand sanitiser was flowing freely, the Covid marshalls in their hi-vis were vigilant and diligent and the government’s check-in app got a fair work-out. Big green tick there Jeanette.

Against this backdrop, was it any wonder that politicians of all stripes and persuasions were beating a path to Rocky’s door, starting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who surely with his credentials must have recognised Beef Australia as pure political manna from heaven?

There certainly was some laying on of hands on a long-horned Brahman steer.

It’s unknown though whether prayers were uttered, but there’s a fair chance a direct line to a higher authority may have been established, given the major grand champion stud bull honours went to a Shorthorn from NSW.

As previously reported by InQueensland, last week’s Beef Australia was arguably the world’s largest event of its type held anywhere in the world post-Covid, offering more photo opportunities to our elected officials than anything they’ve been able to access since the events dried up and the social distancing restrictions took hold.

It was like they could breathe again.

And in breathy tones they offered up some goodies, like the federal government’s increased funds to fight pests and diseases threatening farm production.

Which brings us back to the Minister for Beef, who came to the event after announcing a major redevelopment of the Longreach Saleyards with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Treasurer Cameron Dick.

There was also an announcement of $5 million for cluster fencing to protect livestock – mainly sheep – from wild dogs in western Queensland.

And $2 million for an agritourism campaign to help farmers diversify their income base.

This week, Furner is back in dull old George St in Brisbane, brown Akubra sitting forlornly alone on the office hatstand, as the Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries and Minister for Rural Communities.

No doubt, like those other 38 colleagues across the political spectrum, they will all be united in their fond memories of Beef 2021 and the fervent hope that they’ll be around for the next one in 2024.

If Furner stays in the role until the end of this government’s current term, he will be Labor’s third longest serving agricultural minister, just ahead of the late Tim Mulherin and just behind the Premier’s father Henry, but still a long way off the portfolio’s longest servant Harold Collins, who held the reins for the ALP from 1946-57.

At 63, retirement before the next election may get in the way, if Furner decides to pull up stumps at 65, but for the moment he has little plans to go anywhere.

“I have a commitment and connection to beef and agriculture in general,” he told InQueensland.

“I live and breathe this portfolio every day and work hard for the people who put food and fibre on our tables.

“I don’t care whether they vote for Labor or not. I want to see this industry thrive and achieve well ahead of where it is today.”

For an industry that drives a large part of the Queensland economy, let’s hope, pray if you want to, that the energy of Beef 2021, carries that momentum forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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