Monday, October 21, 2013

Have we met the enemy?

There has been a fair bit of talk about monopoly lately with Murray Goulburn's bid to take over Warnambool cheese and butter. The media, both agricultural and mainstream have been quick to point out that farmers all over this country constantly find themselves at the mercy of multinational corporations and that any less diversity and competition in within our food system will be detrimental to farmers and consumers.

These days it's hard to find a farmer or rural reporter  with a nice thing to say about Australian supermarkets and I myself have often called for the government to step in and break up Coles and Woolworths or to rein in Tey's and Swifts and so on. Monopoly has become the boogieman of modern agriculture, the root of all the evils that farmers suffer and the cause of our friends or family's going out of business.

Surely we have met the enemy! Or have we?

Across the kitchen table it is very, very easy to get wrapped up in defining the problems that face modern agriculture but it is whole different ball game to thrash out workable solutions. When we see an animal sold for $1.80 a kilogram at the saleyard only to find meat selling for between $10 and $30 a kilogram in the supermarket it is hard not to feel like someone, somewhere is making a killing at our expense. I would wager a dairy farmer feels the same when they go to buy milk and a wheat farmer feels no different when they purchase bread.

So the first solution often suggested is to create more competition for agricultural produce by breaking up the large corporate monopolies that overtly or covertly seem to collude to drive down the price paid to farmers for their produce. Such policy's were a feature of Katter's Australia Party's election campaign and have been mentioned in the past by politicians from many other parties. Political proponents of such legislation often cite American anti-trust and competition legislation as a blueprint for similar laws to make the business landscape in Australia fairer. They often neglect to mention that American farmers still need to be heavily subsidized despite the increased competition these laws provide.

Fact is the American and the Australian experiences only prove that you can have a monopoly with more than one company. We have a duopoly with our supermarkets and our abattoir sector is rapidly heading the same way while many of our American counterparts suffer under what could be described as a 'quantopoly' as competition laws prevent many companies from holding any more than 25% of any market. Either way, the effect is the same, thousands of farmers are forced to reach millions of consumers through the bottle neck of a few companies that often reduce farmers to a "take it or leave it" negotiating position and squash the ability of the free market to work. 

This is where the ACCC is supposed to step in and ride to the rescue of the agriculture sector but despite a lot of noise from the National Party, the ACCC remains a toothless tiger. The ACCC has no power, even when it caught Coles misleading it's customers about the origin of some fruit they were fined a paltry $61,000.

So the next solution we often come to for farmers to increase their profitability is to market directly to consumers and cut out the middle man or to develop other markets overseas.

This is where the bodies are buried. 

Cost is a big factor in this equation but lets assume for a minute that finance for this type of venture is available, why don't more farmers do it? The short answer is "regulatory disadvantage".

If a farmer wants to sell his sheep to someone overseas, all he has to do is send them on a boat or a plane right? No!

He needs an export license for that and a raft of government approvals and accreditation's that force him into dealing with a corporation that specializes in live export who passes on the costs of meeting that government regulation back onto the farmer. Escas is making this problem worse, not better. 

If a dairy farmer would like to sell his milk directly to consumers they are forbidden by government to sell that milk unpasteurised, despite the fact that many of them drink it that way themselves.  So the farmer has to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe a million into a special pasteurisation and bottling facility. He might even partner with his neighbors to introduce some economies of scale. This sounds feasible until the EPA places waste conditions on the equipment and the local council takes twelve months to approve the extension to the milking shed, the health department want to inspect every inch of his facility, worksafe turns up etc etc.

If your local fruit and veg shop wanted to bring frozen vegetables in from China via New Zealand to get around all those pesky inspections you would expect regulators to run them out of business but it's in the national interest for voters to have cheaper veggies (as long as they don't see the residue tests). The government doesn't bat an eyelid when the big supermarkets bring in vegetables sprayed with chemicals that are highly illegal in this country. 

When the big corporations want to build a milk factory or an abattoir they often receive government assistance with compliance problems such as those listed above, often they even try to hold the government to ransom like AA Company did  over road upgrades around the desperately needed Darwin abattoir. If a government bureaucrat oversteps the bounds of his authority, the legal team is brought in to straighten things out or phone calls are made to friends in high places.

When normal people have the audacity to take on government entities like this, they often find themselves pursued through the courts for years by teams of lawyers with a bottomless supply of taxpayers money. A farmer cannot afford to have a lawyer on hand every time a government official makes an inspection, nor can he afford to fight lengthy court battles.

In short, monopoly can only exist when it is sanctioned by the government.

Don't expect this to change anytime soon.

The fact is, self interest is present in all forms of government. I don't blame corporations for acting in their own self interest and with government being as powerful as it is, they are serving their interests by keeping the government on side. Politicians too will always act in their own self interest and at the moment that interest is better served by keeping their donors happy at the expense of taxpayers who are none the wiser. Does anyone really believe that the head of a corporation pays $30,000 to sit next to a politician at a fundraising dinner because they enjoy their company?

The solution to this problem is remarkably simple. Government power has to be reduced to the point that it is so feeble, so weak, that all the political donations in the world cannot buy a result. A government that can be "drowned in a bathtub" so to speak. Only then will large and small business operate on a level playing field where the business that is best able to bring consumers the product they desire at the most appropriate price will survive. In some cases that may well be large corporations but they will at least be kept honest by the ability of small business to react swiftly as soon as it becomes viable for them to compete and undercut those corporations. Government has to come back to respecting the right of property owners to do with their land what they see fit and to grow their crops or handle their livestock however they wish instead of imposing unnecessary burdens to appease special interest groups. Government has no business shutting down abattoirs or live exports to other countries on a political whim, experience has already shown that this power has been repeatedly abused. It is also up to us as farmers to earn the trust of consumers by delivering products of such a high standard that government regulation becomes unnecessary and to run our businesses in such a way that no government assistance is ever needed or asked for. We cannot expect the taxpayer to bail us out if we are campaigning against corporate welfare.

The future is bright for Australian farmers and food production looks set to become the next boom industry for our country. I can see a future where automation and robotics pave the way for a renascence in our rural and regional areas. Imagine a world where animals are killed on farm, packaged and sent direct to the supermarket with the farmer keeping most of the profit. Imagine a world where cows are milked straight into the carton to be delivered fresh and natural to the consumer and the wonderful effect of our farms employing scores of local young people who choose to stay and thrive where they grew up in an industry they love instead of being forced into the city to find a meaningful future. 

We can make this future come true, but we have to find politicians that are willing to give their power back to the community and sadly, they are in short supply. 



Monday, May 27, 2013

Heartless or Gutless or Both? An assessment of Andrew Wilkie's live export bill speech.

Listening to Andrew Wilkie introduce his latest bill to ban live exports would be comical if the man himself was not in a position to do so much damage from his ivory tower down in Hobart. He starts simply enough, detailing the various acts of cruelty that have taken place during the last few years (with Adam Bandt trying to squirm into the frame in the background) and goes on referring to the economic reports paid for by the WSPA that many people, including myself, have questioned the validity and accuracy of BUT the real kicker for me was his final line:

"those that do not take this opportunity are either heartless, or gutless or both"

So who is heartless and gutless here Mr Wilkie? As I recall The Northern Territory Cattleman's Association has extended repeated invitations for you to go up north and meet the people whose lives will be forever altered by this bill...

You have refused.

You have refused meet the people whose lives and businesses will be forever changed and see for yourself the reasons why they are so skeptical or to hear first hand their reasons for opposing your bill, the northern weather cycle making it impossible to fatten or truck cattle for long periods, the lack of grain production to fatten cattle in dry seasons and the simple market realities you seem to ignore.

Like the devastatingly low cattle prices we are seeing across the country right now that are at least partially due to the winding back of the live export trade.

That, is the definition of gutless. 

You state that Farmers will be better off without live export and that Western Australia has the abattoir capacity to completely replace the live sheep trade. Yet the sheep price remains stubbornly low and these abattoirs are not being flooded with mass orders for boxed sheep-meat from countries that are no longer sourcing live sheep, even though the farmers are nearly giving them away.

That is because the economists that wrote the WSPA's report seem to have trouble grappling (as you do) with that troublesome theory known as C-A-P-I-T-A-L-I-S-M. People in other countries, particularly poor people look to Australia's live export industry to provide an invaluable source of affordable protein but that protein is only affordable when it's fattened and slaughtered overseas by people on similarly low wages.

When you attempt to create the same product but with the costs imposed by western wages that protein is no longer affordable and your customers go elsewhere. Of course you can go some way to alleviating this by importing workers but then your hardly creating Australian jobs are you? 

Live export has been only partially curtailed and farmers are as worse off as they have ever been yet you wave your report around and lecture them that they will be better off if you ban the whole lot. Even as hundreds go broke and some even resort to final, desperate and lethal measures. Cattle and sheep are not the only things being shot out in the outback because of your folly Mr Wilkie.

You do not care for their plight and that, is the very definition of heartless.

Our former customers in Indonesia now enjoy beef cruelly slaughtered by gangsters in India and smuggled into the country while sheep and goats are live exported into the Middle East from North Africa and other places. I doubt these people care at all about animal welfare and should the cruelty continue on animals from other nations then what do we really accomplish by banning live exports?

Nothing at all Mr Wilkie. 

Andrew Wilkie was a very sad figure in early 2011. A man who had backed an unpopular government into power, whose war on the pokies was going nowhere and the demons of his past were beginning to catch up with him.

He needed a cause to shore up his slim majority. A great legacy or reform he could put his name on that would ensure his backing of the Labor party would be forgotten at the next election, leave the demons of his army days behind and give him clear air to push his pokies agenda.

Andrew was lucky the live cattle issue came up when it did.

Here was an issue that inflamed the sensitivities of his inner city electorate, many of whom have no understanding of the realities of the industry they seek to intervene in but if it all goes wrong Andrews constituents do not lose their homes or their jobs.

Banning live export is the ideal populist policy, the consequences of this bill are reserved only for the people outside his electorate on the other side of the country, the people out of sight, out of mind, that Andrew Wilkie refuses to even face. I guess it's far easier to build a political career on the bones of other people if you don't have to look them in the eye after all.      

I wonder if that makes him heartless or gutless or just both?


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

You Must Be Joking

I got an email this afternoon from Julia Gillard, asking for my support to help Labor win the next election.

I penned this little rhyme in response, if it stirs you at all then please share.  

A whisper sweeps this wide brown land,
flowing as it goes
from angry ear to angry ear
the whisper slowly grows

It tells of farmers strong and proud
that have chose to leave the land
not from drought or flood or bank
but from their own hand.

It speaks of dried out carcasses
littering the land
created not by drought or fire
but by government cattle ban

It speaks of politicians
in inner city seats
stabbing farmers with their pens
for constituents, that hate the taste of meat.

The whisper speaks of scandals
of barefaced carbon lies
of taxes on the air we breath
and slush funds with intimate ties. 

It speaks of debts and deficit
of our countries finances looking sad
while the charlatans point to the rest of the world
and say, "at least we're not that bad."

The whisper spreads across the country
like ripples on a pool
gathering strength from ear to ear
the whispers on the move

By September it will gather strength
the likes we've never seen
the whisper echo's through the people
like the cyclone gathers strength at sea

On and on the anger builds
the whisper becomes a roar
across smoko sheds and kitchen tables
the anger levels soar

When you stand before your ballot
and the vote is yours to cast
hear the whisper in your ear
and put Labor last

I care about our farmers
and I want agriculture to last
I swear I'll do the right thing by them
and put Labor last. 



Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Paragons of Virtue

It's nice to see the sympathy and caring of the animal rights lobby on full display.

The compassionate folk over on the "ban live export" facebook page had a fair bit to say about the farmer in WA who had to make the heartbreaking decision to cull his flock of damara sheep.

Too bad their "compassion" goes only so far.

I don't suppose they've realized that since the domestic market won't take damara sheep, a ban on live export would mean thousands more damaras would have to be culled in a similar fashion? Then again, why let the facts stand in the way of a good old farmer bashing session? The actual welfare of the animals matters little as long as your right, right?

We see this narcissism time and time again from these self appointed paragons of virtue who (with no real world knowledge or industry experience) pass judgement upon those "greedy" and "immoral" people who dare to make a living raising livestock.

I wish I could say that the tragedy of the entire live export debate was captured in the ridiculous ignorance displayed by the keyboard crusaders above, but I'd be wrong.

Or the fact that many of these peoples sense of compassion and fairness stops with the animals but I'd be wrong there as well.

You may think the real tragedy is the often explained but always ignored negative animal welfare and human consequences of a ban on live export but your way off the mark.

The tragedy of this whole mess is that our weak minded politicians (I'm talking to you as well Mr Colin Barnett) actually listen to these people and consider their views when they make decisions that affect the people who actually have skin in the game. 




Friday, January 11, 2013

Rude? Steph Coombes?

Katrina Love from stop live exports must have been in quite a state this week after Steph Coombes published the details from her latest adventure at an Indonesian feedlot.

Katrina was quite miffed that "Little Steph" as she referred to her had not thanked Lyn White for single-handedly changing the way things are done in Indonesia. She also questioned Steph's bravery and integrity while she swooned about Lyn's superhuman exploits.

So let me offer my thanks. 

I'm still waiting for someone to get back to me on how many stun guns Animals Australia supplied out of their millions of dollars in donations. But thanks anyway.

I'm sure all the cattle that were butchered in those hell hole abattiors while Animals Australia sat on their footage for a few extra months so they could release it at the optimum time to cripple the industry, were thankful their mates wouldn't endure the same fate. So thanks again.  

And last but not least thank you Katrina. Your scribblings do provide delicious examples of the ugly hatred and jealousy that boils just beneath the surface.

I'll tell you something about "little" Steph Coombes, having known her for 18 months now I can tell you that six-foot tall and very accomplished young woman has got more integrity and bravery in her little finger than most people have in their whole bodies.

You have to ask yourself, is Lyn really that much braver than Steph?

What takes more bravery?

To put yourself out in the media when the media is on your side, giving you generous air time and even your very own Australian Story?

Or is it braver put yourself out there when the media are downright hostile to your point of view?

Is it braver to sit on the sidelines with a video camera for a few days and film at the worst elements of an easily misunderstood and unpopular industry?

Or or does it take a whole lot more to work in that industry for months and years, in the mud and the blood and to understand it from the inside out and to try and help others understand it as well so they can make up their own minds?

For the stop live exports crowd it seems much easier to sit on the sidelines and smear those people with real world experience as "sanitized" or paid puppets of big business while quoting the experiences of other people and their statistics than to go and experience these things for themselves.

I think Katrina wants to be careful pointing out that Steph "missed the boat" when she missed out taking that ill-fated voyage of the MV Ocean Drover earlier this year. Blog photos and Youtube videos of sheep that suffered very low mortality although they were at sea far longer than intended, of Wellards staff caring for the sheep in the feedlots, arguing with armed police in efforts to save them and lawers fighting heated court battles to save the sheep from a cruel fate would have provided a much more balanced perspective than the incessant blood and guts that the mainstream media churned out night after night.  

It's amazing how these animal rights activists can accuse people like Steph of taking bribes with a straight face.

Lyn White is paid a wage for what she does. 


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Useful Idiots

I just got off the phone with Animals Australia and to tell you the truth I'm as mad as a snake.

This afternoon I read another idiot on their facebook page flippantly talking about introducing foot and mouth disease (FMD) to Australia as a way of achieving a shutdown of the live export industry.

Naturally I rang AA to ask them to take down the comment and inform this stupid individual of the consequences of what he was saying. The girl on the end of the phone not only had no idea what FMD is and what it does to animals but only seemed interested in getting me off the phone. This is not the first time I have had contact with Animals Australia about this issue, several months ago I personally begged Glennis Ooges to put out some sort of statement or announcement condemning the people who advocate introducing FMD as a possible method for shutting down live export. So far AA have said nothing, worse than saying nothing they seem perfectly fine with people openly chatting about it of their facebook page.

Introducing FMD will NOT shutdown live export!

If FMD was introduced it would only temporarily suspend the trade until the disease was under control, Australia may lose many of our overseas markets but eventually live export would resume. Live export would probably thrive in a post FMD Australia as many meatworks would be shut down for months or even years as the disease is brought under control, decimating Australia's boxed beef trade ( the meatworkers union should take note here) and making live export the only way to get cattle markets moving again. 

Many nations who have FMD still live export cattle and sheep. These include Brazil, The UK and many other African and South American nations. Through careful control programs and extensive lobbying they are able to continue their live export trade and eventually, so would we.

The Animal Welfare Consequences are UNTHINKABLE!

To the average person who cares about animals and opposes live export, indeed to the majority of people who oppose live export, the animal welfare consequences of introducing FMD are still unthinkable. 

The twisted idiots who are considering introducing FMD seem to think inflicting gross cruelty on some animals to save others from what they perceive to be cruelty elsewhere is a worthy goal. 

This is where we see Peter Singers utilitarian philosophy taken to its most extreme and dangerous conclusion. Singer, (the father of the animal rights movement) teaches we must look to serving the greatest good for the greatest number. 

Is it right (for example) to bribe an impoverished abattoir worker to abuse one animal on camera if the footage gets a dodgy abattoir shutdown and saves many animals from a cruel fate? 

Some animal rights activists would say yes. 

So is it worth introducing a disease that could temporarily shut down the live export industry? Some might say yes until they investigate the terrible effects of the disease.

Foot and Mouth disease attacks (as the name suggests) the feet and mouth of the animal. It causes large, painful sores and blisters to form on the animals feet and tongue. These sores stop the animal from eating and walking. Once the animal cannot walk anymore it is vulnerable being eaten alive by predators or perishing from thirst. 

Failing that it will die slowly by infection.

FMD can spread up to 6 kilometers on the wind and is the most contagious disease in the world that affects  cloven hoof animals. Given the close proximity of farm animals in the southern states an outbreak there would see FMD spread like wildfire. In the north of Australia the population of feral pigs (pigs are the most effective carriers of the disease) would ensure the disease would spread far and wide before it could be detected and containment could begin.

Whether our would be "savior of animals" would chose to release the disease in the north or the south is really irrelevant, the effect would be the same. 

Millions, that's right, millions of cattle, sheep and pigs would have to be destroyed in efforts to contain the disease. Entire districts would have their herds and flocks wiped out. In the north, helicopters would be sent on 'search and destroy' missions where marksmen with automatic rifles would cut down hundreds of animals from the air every day, returning the next day and the next and the next until no cloven hoof animal is left alive and country reeks of bloated bodies and hums to noise of a plague of flies that would gorge themselves on the spoils of the tragedy. 

Foot and mouth disease is a weapon of mass destruction, a plague that kills without mercy and it is disturbing that somehow people are under the deluded impression that unleashing this disease on healthy Australian livestock can somehow be justified under any circumstance. 

Even more disturbing is the inaction on this issue from leaders within the animal rights movement. Having whipped vulnerable people into such a frenzy they believe animals dying painfully from FMD is better than sending them overseas on a ship, these leaders now sit on their hands instead of denouncing those who would commit unspeakable acts to further their cause. 

Do the leaders themselves believe that cruelty can be justified if it somehow results in a suspension of the live export trade? 

Do they regard those who would introduce FMD to Australia as useful idiots? 

Judging by their actions, some of them may need to phone a friend.