DAIRY farmers fought hard this week for a level playing field in free trade negotiations with China, launching a social media campaign yesterday that reached 1.6 million Twitter users. National dairy lobby group Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) initiated the concept, asking people to upload a selfie holding a sign with a message using the hashtags #FTA4dairy and #FTA4farmers. The idea came about as a way to raise awareness of the importance of achieving a positive China-Australia Free Trade Agreement outcome for dairy, which could see the industry save more than $30 million in tariffs per year. And on its launch day, the message was spread far and wide with more than 1390 tweets uploaded.
ADF chief executive Natalie Collard said the campaign managed to attract grassroots support on a complex trade issue. She said it was positively backed by all sides of dairy – including farmers, processors, the broader industry, politicians, students and dairy consumers. “#FTA4dairy also burst onto the mainstream public sphere with popular tweeters such as Australian stand-up comedian Wil Anderson, New York City social media guru Mike Street and social entrepreneur and Australia Day Ambassador Andrew Heslop showing their support,” she said. “The campaign not only sparked national interest but also garnered support from Twitter users based in the UK, the US, South-East Asia and New Zealand, among others.” But did the politicians take notice of the message? Ms Collard said Australian politicians got on board, with tweets from Nationals Senator, Bridget McKenzie, and Liberal Federal Member for Lyons, Eric Hutchinson. Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon, tweeted “What’s good for dairy is good for Oz”.
By Tuesday the campaign had reached Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who said they would be fighting for dairy’s interests in the China negotiations. State dairy lobby group United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) vice-president Roma Britnell was among the many farmers who threw their support behind #FTA4dairy. “Certainly, touching 1.6m people – that proved people were very interested,” Mrs Britnell said. “But it’s hard with anything like this to know what your influence will be.” She made the trip from her South West dairy farm to Melbourne to show city people what the campaign was all about. “Once they knew we were farmers, they were more than happy to take part,” she said.
While other trade deals signed this year (such as that with Japan) had failed to establish a good outcome for Australian dairy products, Mrs Britnell said the tide was turning. “This is our turn,” she said. “I am hoping the timeline will become irrelevant … and the focus will be on the outcome. “We have to remember we are in prime position and we are better off waiting and not giving away anything too soon.” She said establishing a positive deal was paramount to creating a level playing field – something Australian farmers did not have at the moment. “Farmers here are asked to compete against other countries that are subsidised,” Mrs Britnell said. “It’s like throwing two people in a boxing ring and one is 120 kilograms and the other is 40kg. “It’s about creating a supportive environment.” – See more at: http://bilaterals.org/?farmers-take-to-twitter-with-fta#sthash.Z5KvPHF3.dpuf