At any Queensland gathering these days, be it a bull sale in the bush or a cocktail party in the city, a smattering of the audience will be dressed in green.
It’s a visual symbol of what has become a resolve among wearers and their supporters, that the worth of the state’s food producers finally needs to be understood and valued more widely.
The first call to wear green was made by AgForce when it organised protests against the Labor government’s proposed amendments to vegetation management legislation, and gathered pace a week later at Beef Australia to coincide with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s visit to the site.
The refusal of the Premier’s security detail to later admit Mackay regional councillor and former NRL star, Martin Bella, to a reception in Mackay hosted by the Premier, while wearing a green shirt, was the final catalyst for the grassroots movement that says it’s “pushing back against fake ‘greens' with no connection to the land”.
“They seek to control it with claims based in misinformation, ideology, or a blatant social agenda under the guise of environmentalism,” the Green Shirts Movement’s Facebook page asserts. “It’s time for farmers and regional families to unite and be recognisable to the wider community, and it’s time for us, the real-life environmentalists, to reclaim GREEN.”
AgForce CEO, Mike Guerin, has described the movement as “a platform to to tell the story of industry that so desperately needs telling”.
“Environmental, social and economic settings for producers (are) getting worse and few seem to care,” he tweeted.
One of the landholders embracing the movement and what it stands for is Clermont’s Michelle Finger, who, with her husband Steven, operates a cattle grazing business on a state forest lease west of Clermont.
She is one of those who has become motivated to stand up for her “fellow rural people, the land and its wild inhabitants”.
“I have no real interest in politics nor in fighting ‘fake-green extremists’, however I feel an obligation to do what I can to protect that which is under our care, and if political activism is what is required of a land steward in 2018, then so be it,” she said.
“I am confident now that Labor’s reckless attitude toward landholders has ‘awoken the dragon’ and after the insult of the Vegetation Management Act, we are ready to stand up and stand together.”
The Green Shirts Movement’s Facebook page attracted 1704 followers in its first three weeks, and Michelle said commenters had been hugely supportive.
“Everybody's really upset about the VMA, which I think is a difficult thing but I think it might turn out to be a good thing in the long run for agriculture. Sometimes things have got to get worse before they get better.
“Hopefully this has affected people enough that it galvanises everybody into action and after a rough period might bring some good outcomes for everybody. We might in a roundabout way end up benefiting from everyone's hardship.”
The group entered the political arena in the Longman by-election on the weekend when Mackay regional councillor, Martin Bella, and over a dozen supporters handed out pamphlets with messages of who not to vote for.
Describing the emotive pictures painted by green groups as extortion, and saying environmental issues had become vulnerable to scams, Michelle said the aim of the Green Shirts was to reach out and connect with people.
“There's that many politicans and groups like the WWF or the Wilderness Society that have got posters on the back of buses and billboards and YouTube vidoes, and so much.
“There's really very little telling the other side of the story from agriculture.
“The green shirt symbolises reclaiming the green that we were environmentalists before they even invented the term.”
Michelle believes it’s a movement that is needed worldwide because of the increasing urbanisation and removal from the land in many countries.
She saw it as not just a way that landholders could protect their business but as getting real outcomes for wildlife and the environment, “rather than glossy trickery”.
“The Green Shirts Movement is so fresh, so new – I guess we'll just see where it goes,” she said. “Where my heart wants it to go – I want it to go globally – but we're a fortnight into it so we'll see how it goes.”
Thanks to the live export concerns in Western Australia, there have been a number of enquiries from that state, asking if they could jump on the bandwagon.
“We're not a structured organisation by any means. We're a group of landholders all starting to make a bit of noise,” said Michelle. “Hopefully the internet and social media, while it's not everything, it might start to be a game changer.”