Brumby faces caucus revolt over GM crops
David Rood The Age (Australia), November 24 2007 http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/brumby-faces-caucus-revolt-over-gm-crops/2007/11/23/1195753307236.html
PREMIER John Brumby is facing a caucus revolt over his push to introduce GM crops, with Labor MPs attacking his arrogance and 'crash-through style' in dealing with the controversial issue.
In a rare uprising, up to 40 Labor MPs attended an extraordinary caucus meeting at Parliament House on Thursday to voice concerns about the possible lifting of a moratorium [in the state of Victoria] on genetically modified crops to Mr Brumby and Agriculture Minister Joe Helper.
At the meeting, MPs asked the Premier to show them a report by Victoria's chief scientist, Sir Gustav Nossal, on the impact that lifting the ban would have on farmers and the state's food exports, but were rebuffed by Mr Brumby.
MPs opposing the removal of the ban on genetically modified canola crops, which expires in February next year, fear the decision will be made at cabinet level without going to the 74-member caucus.
The Thursday caucus meeting put concerns about the health, environmental and political impacts of lifting the moratorium to the Premier, including potential damage to the state's green image and challenged Mr Brumby over how the decision was being made.
One MP, who declined to be named, said that people at Thursday's meeting were more outspoken than they had been when Steve Bracks was Premier.
'Brumby is like a break-through kind of character. He's like a bull in a china shop. He just won't listen,' the MP told The Age. 'This is Brumby's arrogance and crash-through style at play here. He's good at numbers but he can't read people.'
The Premier has previously backed GM technology and recently indicated to The Age that the moratorium was likely to be lifted. Mr Brumby said the main farm groups advocated four years ago for the ban as they feared GM crops would damage the state's reputation in key agricultural export markets.
'Most of those groups have now said publicly that they would support lifting the ban,' he said earlier this month.
Thursday's special caucus meeting, attended by MPs from across Labor's factions, was not the first time the Brumby cabinet has been confronted with opposition from within caucus over the GM issue.
Concerns about the GM decision-making process were raised by several MPs at a recent caucus meeting, chaired by Deputy Premier Rob Hulls.
On Tuesday, a forum at Parliament organised by MPs opposed to GM crops heard a presentation by US GM-food opponent Jeffrey Smith.
At a regular caucus meeting on the same day, several MPs criticised the decision-making process and asked Mr Brumby to release Sir Gustav's report to caucus.
The Premier is believed to have knocked back the request, saying the decision is to be made by cabinet.
Among the MPs believed to have attended the Thursday meeting are Christine Campbell, Tammy Lobato, Carlo Carli, Fiona Richardson, Jenny Mikakos and Michael Crutchfield.
Mr Carli is believed to have put a compromise proposal to the meeting with a limited lifting of the ban under strict conditions. Ms Lobato also put a compromise model to the meeting.
Yesterday, the Victorian Local Governance Association expressed concern about the level of consultation with regional communities over the GM moratorium.
'The VLGA has consulted with our council members and discovered that many of our council members are concerned with the environmental and public health aspects relating to the commercial release of GM crops,' the association said.
The decision on whether to lift the ban is expected to be consider by cabinet on Monday and announced next week.