The voice of rural Australia
HIS is, figuratively speaking, the loudest voice in Australia agriculture.
When David Crombie talks, the Prime Minister listens, but the National Farmers’ Federation president has never been a bloke to take himself too seriously.
Back in his hometown last week, the rural leader shared a light-hearted suspicion: "I think country people around Warwick believe I just fly about going to meetings with bureaucrats."
But there might be an element of truth in that.
A hectic work schedule means Mr Crombie divides his weekdays between Canberra, his family home in Brisbane, and wherever else his role with the NFF calls him to be.
At the core of his commitment is a belief his actions will help steer policy for agricultural Australia, putting rural industry in the best possible place for sustainability, growth and market competitiveness.
While Mr Crombie talks passionately about primary producers and their needs at a national level, there is more to the man than his mission.
Born in Warwick, he was raised by his mother Betty and his grandfather, after his father was killed during World War II.
"I lived in a house in Albion Street, right where the RSL now stands, but the road was a little quieter back then," he said.
As a youngster he divided his time between Warwick and his grandparents’ sheep and cattle property, Mountside, south of the city.
"I have always been very fond of Warwick; it is where I spent my childhood and where my children spent their holidays.
"It is still the place we come to when we need to get away."
Today he owns the property his grandparents bought in 1923, but it hasn’t been a case of family inheritance.
"My grandparents sold the property in 1965, and I guess it always meant a lot to me, because I managed to buy it back in 1982."
As a youngster he started primary schooling at Warwick’s Scots College, before being sent to boarding school in Brisbane.
From there he went to university, where he studied economics, determined to somehow combine his love of the land with his education.
With the modesty of one who has known success, Mr Crombie omits to mention his sporting prowess.
History shows he was selected in an Australian rugby union side to play in a Test match in New Zealand in 1967.
"I can’t say I played for the Wallabies," he insisted.
"I went over with the team, but I sat on the bench for the whole match, so no, I never played for Australia."
He did however play for Queensland, and earned his place in an Australian University team. He continues to contribute to the sport, sitting on the national board of the ARU.
These days he is a grandfather to eight, the youngest of whom at just a few weeks old, has become a temporary resident of the family’s Indooroopilly home.
"My daughter and her husband are renovating, so I am enjoying having a very young baby in the house," he said.
He is also the proud father of four daughters and a son.
"My son has had a disability since birth, so he lives with us, but he works full-time and we think he is pretty incredible," Mr Crombie said.
"My daughters are also special, and we get together when we can.
"We try to spend Christmas at Mountside when possible."
But back to the man’s mission: he is vocal about the rural issues, which will play a dominant role in the upcoming Federal election.
"People wonder what I know about what is happening at a grassroots level because I don’t go around talking about industry issues like the dog problem," he said.
"My role is to work on issues at a national level, and for regional places like Warwick, that means getting the policies right and advocating them to government."
He talked passionately of trade tariffs and the need for open access to markets, especially in Asia.
There were other issues, pertinent to the rural sector, which he believed would play a dominant role in the upcoming Federal election.
He listed climate change, how agriculture could co-exist with natural resource development, water usage and infrastructure, primarily roads and rail development.
"Our policy is driven by grassroots issues, which come from the State organisations like Agforce, which we represent," Mr Crombie said.
"What we need to do is tell our stories, talk up agriculture, because we are a smaller voice politically, but we are imperative to the economy.
"The rural sector currently produces 97 per cent of Australia’s food, and we do that safely and with a great focus on accountability, sustainability and quality.
"We need to pitch our efforts to the wider community so we are not taken for granted."
At a national level he is being heard.
He said at meetings earlier this year Prime Minister Julia Gillard was receptive to rural concerns and supported the NFF’s call for a single pastoral award to unify rural wages.
It is successes like this which Mr Crombie will rate as his personal highs when he steps down from his role at the helm of the nation’s largest farmer’s organisation.He finishes his four-year term as NFF president in November.
Yet for the entrepreneurial rural identity, who has experience in the live cattle export industry and agribusiness management, the move doesn’t equate to winding down.
"I believe there is still a lot to be done to improve outcomes for Australian primary producers."
More rural news in tomorrow's Bush Tele.