WHY does the Government favour cars over cows?That's the question dairy farmers want answered, because the gas guzzlers are ahead of the grass grinders by a long way.
And it is that issue – along with the carbon tax – that looks like a button-pusher for Victorian farmers in this elongated federal election campaign.
The farmer's gripe is this: why does the Government spend billions of dollars propping up the Australian car manufacturing industry while it does little to help the dairy industry?
Two industries that contribute roughly the same to the Australian economy, which employ a similar number of people (45,000 in car manufacturing versus 43,500 dairy farmers and processing workers, according to the
Victorian Farmers Federation), operate in corrupted international markets and both are doing it tough at the moment.
Yet, while one can make the Government jump with the sniff of a plant closure, the other is virtually ignored at its time of crisis.
"We've seen Toyota, Ford and General Motors (Holden) gaining vast sums to protect Australian jobs, yet dairying employs almost as many workers on farms and in dairy processing," says VFF president Peter Tuohey.
"Why is a Ford worker in Geelong more important than a dairy farmer in Noorat?"
The farmers' beef is the local car industry – according to the informed observers – looks to be in terminal decline.
It just can't compete with the cheap Asian manufacturers.
Yet agriculture, especially dairy, is meant to be on the cusp of a boom.
Asia, particularly China, cannot match the quality and quantity of Australian and New Zealand milk production.
But the Kiwis have a tariff deal with China that allows them to export more into the world's fastest-growing market than us.
It is exactly the sort of help our farmers want.
Not the handouts the car manufacturers receive, but opening access to markets.
The supermarkets have copped a caning for selling cheap milk for the past two years.
But for Victoria's dairy farmers, the real culprits are the high Australian dollar, the distorted world market and the growing cost of producing milk.
The supermarkets swear black and blue they are not paying less for the milk, that they carry the cost of selling it for a dollar.
The real issue with the dollar-a-litre milk is one of perception – that milk is worth little, that it doesn't cost much to produce.
Yet it does.
And the cost is growing with the advent of the carbon tax.
The Weekly Times revealed this week some farmers have stopped irrigating because of the high cost of electricity to run pumps.
No irrigation means no income – simple as that.
The Government said power prices would rise an average 9.7 per cent for dairy farmers, or $1240. But bills are showing rises of 30 per cent.
Which brings us back to cars.
The manufacturing sector has one thing farmers lack – unions.
The Labor side of politics clambers over those industries to protect mostly Labor-held seats where the factories are and the workers live because of union pressure from within the party.
And the Libs desperately want these voters to replicate Howard's battlers, who kept him in power for many years.
But farmers are mostly in strongly conservative seats, taken for granted by the Coalition and ignored by Labor.
When a power bill arrives that clearly shows how much the carbon tax is costing them – while the Government tells farmers they are exempt from the tax – then no wonder farmers are unhappy.
And when they read yet another story about how a car company has received a hand-out, no wonder they get angry.
All farmers want is some of the attention the car manufacturing industry has been receiving for years.
Ed Gannon is editor of The Weekly Times