I wrote last year about the alarming and strategically dangerous state of our national fuel oil reserves, in as much as we hardly have any. Bill Shorten the Leader of the Opposition in a recent speech told his audience that, “Right now, we have just 23 days of jet fuel, just 22 days of diesel and only 19 days of automotive gas.(petrol)” He added that when Prime Minister he would fix it. The Prime Minister, Scot Morrison, has not mentioned the problem, maybe he doesn’t want us to know?
Both of our would-be leaders are more interested in the show-time of denigrating each other and so winning the upcoming election — the security of the nation runs a distant second to getting their hands on the keys to The Lodge and even better, Kirribilli House.
It came as something of a surprise to me the other day when I realised that my wife Lynne and I have lived in Australia for over fifty years — half a century! Most of that time in Western Australia.
As I write, it is Australia Day. For some there are parties and fireworks. For others there are protests, rallys and marches because they believe that today should be a day of shame, because it is the day that the British stole Australia from its indigenous people.
Australia Day is often heralded by ads about lamb and barbies being ‘Australian’. But what does it actually mean to be Australian? I am half Warlpiri and a mixture of Irish, Scottish and Welsh. My sons are of Warlpiri, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Malay, Indian, French, African, Chinese, Scandinavian and German ancestry. My stepson is half Scottish and a quarter Mauritian. They are all 100% Australian. My husband and stepfather of my children is Scottish but calls himself a ‘Scaussie’. What we all have in common is a love for this multifaceted and beautiful nation.
My great grandfather’s grandfather was convicted of ‘robbing a soldier of his arms’, in 1832 in Kilkenny at the age of 21. He came as a convict in 1833. He was an Irish patriot fighting for his faith and people. In the current political climate I would not be expected to acknowledge and celebrate his life because I have a Warlpiri mother. Most of the self-identifying indigenous members of our community who claim to feel hurt by Australia Day being held on the January 26 would also have white ancestors in their family trees and may not even have been born if the First Fleet hadn’t come.
It’s a Monday morning in mid September in Albany, Western Australia. Albany is on the far south coast of Western Australia, it has a population of about 36,000, and is the main town in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia which has a population of about 60,000. It has a wonderful climate and is recognised as being an ideal place to retire, which is why I am down here working at trying to make the pension do the impossible. I wish Jesus was still around and he could tell me how he fed the 5000 with five barley loaves and two small fish. We would have to catch the fish because the price of imported fish not cheap in this fishing port, but cheaper than the exorbitantly price locally caught fish — that stuff really is for the seriously rich. Last week in the supermarket in this town which has a fishing fleet, the Barramundi was from Viet Nam.
“This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.”
The first three parts of this series ‘National Bank Bastardry’, dealt with the simple fact that the NAB seized over $9 million worth of the Cronin family assets to settle a debt to the NAB of just over $5 million. The Cronin’s assets were six farms (Chambejo Farms), including the family home. When the NAB seized the Cronin’s land they (the Cronins) had four farms on the market with Landmark. The seizure was unnecessary and according to every reference I can find, probably illegal. The law is unequivocal, the mortgagee can only seize asset(s) to the value of the mortgagors debt to the mortgagee, and the family home should only be seized as the last resort. The NAB ignored that ruling and seized six farms including the family home worth, according to the only FH valuation we have been allowed to see, some ~$8.5 million— an independent valuation $9.4 million both valuations well in excess of the debt. That didn’t stop the NAB — they seized the lot. There was a now famous court case Nolan v MBF Investments. It’s not unreasonable to assume that banks and receiver managers know of the judge’s determination in this landmark case. This reference also explains in detail what is meant by ‘duty of care’ as it applies to property sales. I have quoted this ruling many times in previous articles and neither the NAB or Ferrier Hodgson have replied.
I thought the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, might have a view, which he could share with us regarding the alarming statistic that 80% of all processed pig meat consumed in this country is imported. I was wrong.
I thought he might, together with his state counterparts, also have a view on the plague of wild pigs, some twenty million many say, that roam this land and by their very existence threaten our major livestock industries. I was wrong.
I accept that in spite of what I have written those who administer agriculture in this country don’t know or don’t care or both, about the domestic pig industry and threat feral pigs present to our livestock industries.
It would be easy, when reading what follows, to conclude that as the author, I am suffering from an acute case of self-righteous indignation because nobody in government, anywhere in Australia, has responded in a positive way to my original article and personal letters. So before anyone has such scurrilous thoughts, I should explain myself.
I understand that it is in the view of the Australian government, as demonstrated by their actions, that it’s easier or they are more content, paying interest on the money the country has borrowed and continues to borrow, in part to pay for the shortfall in our balance of payments, that is we import more than we export, than pay that money to Australian farmers so that this country can be where it should be, self sufficient in food.
I also understand that this is a free country and that Coles and Woolworths who between them control 80% of the food retailing business are free to roam the world seeking the cheapest food they can get their hands on so they can continue their price war with the objective of increasing their respective market share, so they are part of our balance of payments problem. It is quite evident they would rather do that than support the Australian pig industry, so that it can employ and deploy, by the size it could be, the latest in technology and science in the world of pig meat production, from genetics to processing. The rise in food imports and the decline in food processing in this country I have written about before —but here it is again in case you have forgotten. Trends in Australian food trade.
I will also show in a later article that not only China, but many countries within our region, like us, import thousands of tonnes of pig meat from the EU, America and Canada, when we in Australia, as it were, are on their doorstep and desperate to grow our export trade.
Am I being dramatic?
It would be easy to construe that I am being a bit dramatic when I write about the threat wild pigs present to the livestock industries in Australia. I deal with this matter specifically later in this article — there is just one thing I would like to add, well two really. I have twice seen, first hand, the devastation that Foot and Mouth disease can cause – both times in the UK. The first time when I was about 13, the family put a barrier across the narrow lanes leading to the farm. There was disinfected straw everywhere even the crows were viewed with suspicion. The closest outbreak was five miles away. The fear in my family was palpable. Their dairy herd was their pride and joy and the sheep that grazed the mountains provided stability to the tenuous hold they had on their post-war hill farm.
The second time was maybe twenty years ago, when I was working over there for a few weeks. An outbreak was traced back to northern England and within days they were searching for sheep and cattle all over Europe. Meat exports stopped and markets closed. The losses ran into billions of pounds. Both events, disasters, caused the massive loss of some of the best animal genetics in the world. When it was all over there was a debate on whether if it happened again, the UK would start vaccinating. I think it was decided it would be impractical considering the movement of livestock around the EU.
Some countries in South America do vaccinate and they have developed internationally recognised foot and mouth free zones and this has enabled them to continue to sell boxed beef into Europe. They continue to export live cattle to those countries, mainly in South America, which have F & M.
I wrote to the Federal Minister for Agriculture. I didn’t get a reply or even an acknowledgement of receipt of my letter.
There are obviously more important matters of State and photo opportunities regarding national biosecurity than 20 million wild pigs – like Johnny Depp’s dogs. They are not coming back evidently, not the dogs, but Mr and Mrs Depp.
Bob Hall is a well-known agricultural consultant based in Darkan, Western Australia.
Back in the sixties Bob challenged us all about the way we managed our merino sheep.
There was nothing theoretical about Bob’s challenges. They were based on sound, practical and proven experience gained through working with his clients.
Bob offered solutions stretching from sheep yard and shearing shed design, to management practices designed to improve the efficiency and profitability of growing merino wool, which are still, maybe even more, relevant today.
Bob now manages a broad portfolio of consultancy covering all aspects of farm management in the wheat sheep belt of Western Australia. Here he presents his views on a hot topic of the day, Multi Peril Crop Insurance.
Why are stock dying in the north of Australia from starvation when there is plenty of stock food in the country? For the same reason, I suppose, that thousands of people all over the African continent and in refugee camps in the Middle East, especially children are dying every day from starvation and deprivation while there is no shortage of food in the world. If we are honest with ourselves, the majority of us, as we fill the larder for Christmas, just do not care. The statistics say that after we have finished our celebrations, we shall throw away half of the food we have bought.
There is a story of Bono of at a U2 charity concert, must be over ten years ago now, quietened the crowd, raised his hands above his head and clapped his hand together once. Three seconds later he did it again, and then again and again every three seconds. The, crowd, I think it was in the Albert Hall was quiet. Very gently he spoke and said, ‘Every time I clap my hands together, every three seconds, a child dies in Africa’. Someone in the audience shouted ,’Well stop f*&$#@ng clapping then.’ The crowed booed. The money raised went to help the children in Africa yet to this day they still die of starvation.
There is nothing I can add to the disaster that is the drought in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, except to say as a nation we have always been able to find millions of dollars to help people in other countries to survive and recover from natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis and as a nation we have been proud to help.
Now we have a disaster as bad or worse than any we have helped in other countries going on right now in the north of our own country and it seems we cannot come to our own aid. I ask the question why and who gives a damn about a deficit or a surplus budget when the heart of our northern agriculture is suffering unimaginable hardship? It is a situation that could be substantially ameliorated, made unimaginably better even fixed by spending money, government money, our money.
Irrespective of one bank agreeing not to foreclose and threats being made to name and shame, and high profile media people giving their support to the beleaguered landowners, the drought remains, stock continue to die. The Intellectual property of ‘Agriculture Australia’ is substantially in the genetics of the stock we have bred over many years. That gene bank is among the best in the world, it is priceless and will take years to replace.
One of the great shames of the unnecessary ‘selling off’ of the Australian merino flock for meat, is that some of the best wool producing genetics in the world finished up as Ugg boots, sheepskin coats and on the barbecues and in the cooking pots around the world.
The task before us now is to feed the stock that remain, we have and stop the death from starvation of Australia’s greatest asset, the gene pool of Australia’s national beef herd that has taken generations to build and which is in the process of being unnecessarily lost for all time.
Are we starting to see, ever so gently, the beginning of the food wars, which have been talked about in recent times and none of us believed in?
Are countries that cannot produce enough food for their own needs, starting to make sure they don’t go hungry in the future?
Can we in Australia fill the gap? We are always boasting about how many people we feed as well as ourselves. But our food imports are going up and our production per hectare with cereals is going down.
We are cutting back on Research and Development (R&D) and we are reducing the size of our Departments of Agriculture.
So the question remains can we and do we want to fill the world-wide demand for sheep?
The recent announcement by the Walsh brothers from Bunbury in Western Australia that they had done a deal for lamb and beef with a Chinese company worth a billion dollars over five years is some deal.
This is great deal for Western Australia and the rest of Australia. The Walsh’s’ say they have been working in China for many years and this deal is the culmination of all that work. I wonder if we are beginning to witness a land and a food ‘grab’ as part of a strategic plan for China’s future? Continue reading “Mary has a litle lamb – and all the world wants it.”
The mighty who operate with total impunity – a law unto themselves.
Would Mr Barnett have been as blunt in public to Richard Goyder, Wesgarmers CEO and Ian McLeod CEO of Coles about the anguish they have caused in the dairy industry with their dollar a litre take it or leave it bludgeoning? No, he wouldn’t dare. But he gets away with arrogance, rudeness and denigration in public to farmer organisations because he knows he can.
Colin Barnett was sending a big message to the PGA and WA Farmers in being so sarcastic, of concern is judging by the reaction there was no one at home in either WA Farmers or the PGA listening or if there was they didn’t understand. We all know Barnett’s sarcasm about the curtains fading is to do with the claims that milk production would go down and the kids wouldn’t go to sleep all as the result of daylight saving.
If that is the best the Premier can do when talking agriculture, his memory is convenient and it brings into sharp focus the lack of real communication between the Premier and the leaders of the PGA and WA Farmers.
Dale Parke’s comment also tells a sad tale of the poor working relationship between himself and the Minister for agriculture at the time, Terry Redman. Mr Redman obviously had his own agenda and attached no importance to the views of the President of WA Farmers.
There are some really difficult challenges around agriculture at the moment, of immediate concern and not the least being the diabolical condition of our country infrastructure, road and rail. So it was a typical Barnett ‘country hick’ comment designed to denigrate and take our mind off other matters.
An old and effective trick to use a bit of personal denigration in a not too subtle way to change the debate. Twelve months later the road and rail debate has gone nowhere. Probably deteriorated as the Shires have run out of money to maintain roads to carry trucks with payloads far beyond the design criteria of what in many cases are gravel roads built 50 to 100 hundred years ago.
Trouble was the Premiers sarcasm and comments were like water off a ducks back. Dale Park as good as agreed and said he couldn’t get through to his Minister Terry Redman when he needed to and Rob Gillam dismissed the Premier with a metaphorical dismissive wave of the hand.
Dale Park, when he refers to what he sees as a lack of understanding by the Premier of the problems of the eastern wheatbelt as they were so graphically portrayed at what I call ‘The Meeting of a Thousand Souls’ that was held in Merriden over twelve months ago, should remind the Premier that at that time, shortly after the meeting and without his Minister for Agriculture, Mr Barnett gave what I took to be a commitment that he personally would better educate himself with regard to not only the problems of the eastern wheatbelt but of all agricultural regions. He gave the impression he understood the debt and the problems it was causing to the community from farmers to the business people and to the working families.
He also gave the distinct impression he would take a personal interest in the situation. Ken Baston, the new Liberal Minister for Agriculture visited another part of the wheatbelt and virtually repeated the Premier’s commitments.
The financial aid that was promised at that time has just become available. It beggars belief that it has taken so long for the Commonwealth and the State to sort the scheme out. Best part of 18 months to develop the terms and conditions. Then again it is not surprising because Machiavelli is alive and well in the halls of power. I gather there has only been one successful applicant. Was it planned that way? Between the Department of Agriculture economists and the consultancy groups they seem to work so closely with now, it would be difficult, given the number of applications approved, to believe the conditions were drawn up to help as many as possible.
It is a sad reflection on the Minister and the bureaucracy, presumably the Dept of Agriculture and Food, if the conditions of the financing are not designed to help those most in need.
Rumours abound that both the PGA and WA Farmers have seen better financial times. Membership is low. Patronage and sponsorship is becoming more difficult.
The stories of orange lifeboats moving around Perth water in the middle of the night have not been confirmed by either organisation. Neither have the rumors been confirmed that offers have been made on two substantial houseboats.
It’s time for Change
Now is the right time for a change? It’s time both the P&G and WA Farmers, with their heads held high for they have toiled for agriculture and done a job few of us would take on, to give the job away.
It is time for them to take the same advice that Cromwell gave to the Rump government. ‘In the name of God go!’ and then we should add the words ‘And thank you for all you have done over the years.‘
It’s an interesting world, and that is the understatement of the year. Our objective with the Global Farmer is to stay as far away as we can from domestic agricultural politics, but we do have something to say about agripolitics in Australia in another blog out soon.
The author of this article, Alan Matthews, is well worth following, if only to keep up with his dislike of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which causes Australia all kinds of problems at times. This article in particular caught my eye as it confirmed something I had heard over a cup of coffee at a board meeting of the Great Southern Community Housing Association.
For those who don’t know where the Great Southern is in Western Australia, it is Albany on the far south coast and north and east (at least we are getting out there) A big area geographically. Agriculture is its main industry and its becoming more of a retirement area as time goes by. More farmers retiring and many wanting to get out of the heat of the wheatbelt. It’s worth a Google for those who don’t know the area. We had been discussing that just in our area we have a need for 500 dwellings from 1 and 2 bedroom units to houses with three or four bedrooms, all for people who have been ‘qualified’. That means put through the financial wringer to make sure they haven’t got a South Sea Island tucked away somewhere.
We have the usual problems of rural towns in Australia these days, high youth unemployment being not the least. How on earth someone can write out the required number of job applications in a town this size, so that one can qualify for benefits, completely defeats me and regrettably is a demonstration of how far out of touch our politicians are.
Five hundred dwellings, representing over 1000 individuals, is a lot for people of proven need within an area of maybe a total population of about 60 thousand . Some who are destitute. The Feds say it’s a State problem and the State are busy pulling as much money out of everything they can, including housing. One billion for a footy stadium okay, money for housing? None. Got to get your priorities right, the homeless don’t represent many votes.
As we munched on lunch I mentioned that a manager of Food Bank, somewhere in Melbourne I think, but it’s not important, had been in the news saying they were desperate for food, the demand for food was increasing week on week and so too were the demographics. He went on to relate now that it was quite usual for the new SUV with all the trimmings to pull up and the driver, sometimes somewhat sheepishly other times quite brazenly. You get the drift, outwardly well off and comfortable people running out of money before pay day. I commented, perish the thought, that it was people who had just found a cheap (Foodbank sell by the kilo) source of food.
The local manager of Anglicare joined in and said the same thing was going on in Albany and inquiries had shown that those who went to Foodbank did have a genuine need. They had the car, the house, and as far as could be ascertained all they needed, but no money for food. Too much month at the end of the money.
All of the above has just added to the observation I have made a number of times, even down here in Albany, there ‘seems’ to be a lot of new cars on the road, particularly the 4 x 4 twin cab SUV type, with all the accessories imaginable. It’s a good thing no doubt but there are not many, or there do not seem to be as many, old cars on the road.
House prices, again even down here in Albany, are quite frightening and a trip to the local Harvey Norman or similar shows there is no shortage of the plastic fantastic.
Anyone with reasonable ability with a calculator can work out that to support all that ‘glitz’ there have to be two incomes. Take one income away, sickness, pregnancy, anything and trouble, some say bankruptcy is just 30 days away. Frightening.
We talk about food security in the future. We have clowns in Australia talking about the ‘Asian Century’ and Australia being the ‘Food Bowl of Asia’. Who ever thinks up these slogans should be pilloried for being the idiot they are. While at the same time we, obviously, as a society, have some serious questions to answer.
According to Foodbank, Anglicare and I gather a hundred and one other charities we have some major social questions that remain unanswered and more disturbingly unrecognised by governments and many government agencies.
Fo me, if there are an increasing number of people out there who are having difficulty putting food on the table for their families then we are no longer the ‘Lucky Country’. In fact we are no different than those you will read about in Alan Matthews’ story, and that is a sobering thought.
Europe’s common agricultural policy is broken – let’s fix it!