ABC Rural Report

Drought conditions slightly worsen on mid-north coast

78.6 per cent of the state now in drought.

Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald predicts that with much of the estimated winter crop lost due to ongoing dry conditions, NSW made bread and beer will cost more as we approach Christmas.

He says that most of the beer brewed in NSW will be made from barley grown interstate.

The Gloucester RLPB Division A has moved from satisfactory to marginal, and the Kempsey RLPB remains unchanged from last month.

Rural votes crucial to election outcome

Rural issues are already grabbing much of the attention of our federal politicians.

With the election campaign finally officially kicked off, deepening drought, water, health crises will only up the pressure for both sides to perform in rural marginal seats.

Even if there is the large swing towards Labor the opinion polls are predicting, its likely to to be less dramatic among rural voters, traditionally conservative supporters of the Coalition.

Veteran Liberal Senator and farmer Bill Heffernan:

"One of the great worries for me is that on the other side of politics I can't think of anyone, bar one person, rural has any rural experience at all."

But with changing demographics and a shifting mood, there are a swag of marginals with a rural component, which will reap the results of a dogged seat by seat battle.

Australian National University Politics Professor John Warhurst:

"There are a number of electorates in which rural voters could well be decisive of the 17 or 18 seats that Labor needs to win to win the election. Roughly speaking about half of those seats that Labor has to win contain at least some rural component.

"They are spread right across Australia in four or five of the states and so rural and regional voters, if they are in those sorts of seats can rest assured they will be central to the election outcome."

Labor campaign spokeswoman Penny Wong says the party is determined to appeal to rural voters with some key policies:

"Clearly we know that Australia lags behind many competitor economies in terms of access to broadband. And the Australians most disadvantaged by that live in rural and regional areas."

The Nationals Federal Director Brad Henderson is conceding nothing:

"The Nationals focus for this election is about retaining all our existing seats. We've had a redistribution and some significant boundary realignments. And we also aim to win some additional seats because there's been a new seat created in Queensland and there are some other opportunities which have come up."

Both sides of politics are competing hard to score points on rural issues from local council amalgamations to pulp mills, telecommunications to climate change.

They're also acutely aware that the whole electorate is watching how they plan to deal with the drought, water shortages and crumbling health services.

An we've already seen a smattering of that old election campaign faithful as politics professor John Warhurst says:

"There's always the possibly of pork barrelling, which the Government in particular can do, picking out particular electorates for special treatment whether it be a hospital or a dam or something of that nature."

The latest Newspolls have reaffirmed some of the Coalition's strongest support remains in the bush, but could a swing towards Labor even sweep into country towns?

Ask rural voters:

"Im a horticulturalist from Busselton in Western Australia and my main crop is asparagus. I think the current government have got out of touch with rural people and I'll be supporting the Labor Party."

"Om Susan McDonald from Brightland Station in Cloncurry in northwest Queensland; I'm going with the proven record rather than a person who I think has too much union influence."

"I work for the environment in northwest Tasmania. I will be voting for the Labor Party. My vote has changed because I've been very impressed since Kevin Rudd took over."

"I live in Katherine in the Northern Territory and I run a small independent bookshop. My vote has wavered over time, but the actions of the current government has firmed my view towards the social justice position of the Labor Party."

"Im an ex-miner from Broken Hill, I think we've got to have a change, but that doesn't mean to say I'll help them change."

The Big Bull gets the chop

It was the brain child of local Wauchope dairy farmer John Eggert.

He said on the ABC documentary A Big Country "I'm a Scorpio and a stubborn pig-headed farmer and I just went ahead and built it".

At 14 metres high and 22 metres long it was The Big Bull.

Although the bull has been closed to the public as a tourist attraction for some years, tourists were still stopping by the Eggert dairy farm at Wauchope, now run by John's brother Paul and son Chris, to take photos of the bull even 20 years after it was opened by Peter Russell Clarke.

"Last weekend it was taken down, the fibre was all removed, everything removed from the site, timber stack up and yeah the big bull's disappeared," said Paul Eggert.

"Everybody including lots of people in the families had some really good parties there. Most of my kids had their 21st birthdays in the big bull so it was a bit sad to actually see it go."

"It was just sitting there doing nothing so it was time for it to be removed."

Green gloves on to protect the north coast's environment

Over 100 landholders in the region have put on their 'green gloves' and are taking environmental protection into their own hands.

These landholders have made a long term commitment to protecting the environment through the State Government's property vegetation plans and associated financial incentives.

Chair of the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority Dr Judy Henderson says a range of rehabilitation and protection projects have been taken up by a number of groups in the region.