Sunday, August 5, 2012

Foot In Mouth Disease

Foot In Mouth Disease

"Non-productive old cow" might not be the most cutting, the most vicious, the most crude or the most personal insult ever thrown at a female, yet in context, it ranks up there with the absolute worst. Consider that the comment was delivered by the CEO of respected Australian company at a business function, and that it was aimed at our Prime Minister, and it's about as offensive as you can get.

Mr David Farley is the CEO of AACo, the Australian Agricultural Company, which is Australia's biggest private landholder with 7.2 million hectares, consisting of 19 cattle properties in Queensland and the Northern Territory. It's literally one of Australia's oldest surviving businesses, dating back to 1824. AACo has an international reputation as a supplier of quality beef from its herd of 660,000 head of cattle and is the world's biggest producer of Wagyu beef. In terms of Australian Agribusiness, AACo is the godfather.

The Herald Sun reported that last Thursday, Mr Farley was explaining AACo's plans for a new abattoir designed to process older cows when he made the comparison.

"So the old cows that become non-productive, instead of making a decision to either let her die in the paddock or put her in the truck, this gives us a chance to take non-productive animals off and put them through the processing system," Mr Farley reportedly said.

"So it's designed for non-productive old cows. Julia Gillard's got to watch out."

What on earth was Mr Farley thinking? That Ms Gillard should line up with AACo's other old cows en route to the Whiskas factory?

Minister for the Status of Women Julie Collins said that the comment was "totally unacceptable", but what she didn't say was that it's comments like Mr Farley's that make her Ministry necessary. If the Prime Minister was male, with the same policies, the same legislative record and the same choice to be childless, would Mr Farley have included a similar joke? If not, the comment is not only an example of extremely poor taste, it's also gender-biased.

As ABC journalist Latika Bourke shared via Twitter last night, AACo has a Code of Conduct, which has been signed off by Mr Farley himself. Included within the Code is this:

Employees shall not do anything that would be likely to have a negative impact on AAco’s reputation.


UPI has reported that Mr Farley has written the comment off as "tongue in cheek".

Perhaps, but that doesn't make it acceptable. Whether Mr Farley's "Non-productive old cow" remark was aimed at Prime Minister Gillard's political record, or her personal choices as a woman is irrelevant. Whether his comment was scripted or an impromptu "joke" is irrelevant. It was a personal insult aimed at a the head of our Government. That's not acceptable in any circumstances. That it came from a respected business executive makes it worse; he should - and does - know better.

Mr Farley should apologise to the Prime Minister, to his employees, the AACo Board and shareholders.

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