Spitting chips over representaion

A NEW organisation that wants to formally represent potato growers must “step out of the shadows” and reveal its true identity, says Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan.
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In a fiery statement to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Senator O’Sullivan demanded public transparency of the “unnamed” potato industry group and its membership.

He accused the group of lobbying to replace AusVeg as the $690 million potato industry’s eligible industry representative body – under federal legislation governing research and development spending – without proper public disclosure.

Fairfax Agricultural Media understands Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has asked for submissions from the two groups vying for the potato industry’s representative role.

They’ve been asked to make final submissions by February 27 outlining their individual credentials based on structure; governance; financing arrangements; membership, and how they’re best-placed to benefit levy-payers.

Mr Joyce has also held private meetings relating to the issue and is expected to conduct due diligence in considering the two applications before making his final response mid-March.

The situation shares sharp similarities to the long-running rivalry between Grain Producers Australia (GPA) and GrainGrowers over the grains industry’s Representative Organisation role.

Currently, GPA has legislative oversight of the Grains Research and Development Corporation which has an annual budget of $180 million; combining grower levies and matching government funds.

But GrainGrowers has waged a long-running campaign to assume the legislated representative role and displace the grassroots-based GPA, citing greater financial grunt and membership numbers.

Senator O’Sullivan said he’d been contacted by multiple potato growers across Queensland recently who’d expressed frustration and anger at the lack of transparency attached to the budding potato industry lobby group’s dealings with government and industry.

He said the lobby group would never have credibility in the eyes of Australia’s 1088 potato growers – which it hoped to serve as the new eligible industry body (EIB) under federal regulations – if they did not reveal their identities, plans and motives before the review was concluded.

“This group is actively lobbying to represent our potato growers, yet they are not willing to tell these same growers who they are,” he said.

“I have had many individual growers contact me fearing this unidentified group are controlled by processors, supermarkets or a cohort of big growers.

“They are demanding that government does not consider this lobby group unless grassroots growers are provided with an opportunity to assess who the group consists of and what their motives are as well as see a plan detailing how it can fairly and equitably represent the interests of the broader potato industry.

“This group will never be trusted by growers unless it is open and transparent about who they are and what they hope to achieve.

“I don’t care if it is potatoes, bananas, widgets or lollipops – without transparency we have nothing – it is time for this group to come clean and face the industry.”

But Potato Processing Association of Australia (PPAA) chair Peter Hardman confirmed he was heading a group that’s making a business case to be the potato industry’s peak body, under federal regulations.

“We’re not challenging AusVeg at all or replacing AusVeg,” he said.

“We are putting up a business case, or submission to the minister that we were asked to do as part of the HAL (Horticulture Australia Limited) review which was completed about 6-months ago.

“HAL have a new structure now but at the time of the review the minister decided it was time the potato industry had their own peak body.”

Mr Hardman said he believed the potato industry was “bit splintered” and had a large supply chain that’s “not fully represented”.

“For an industry worth $690 million, we believe we should have a stand-alone peak body and not one diluted by being under AusVeg,” he said.

“We believe potatoes should be represented as a stand-alone industry and it’s certainly big enough.”

Mr Hardman said he’d seen Senator O’Sullivan’s media statement which made some incorrect claims about his group’s membership and intentions.

He said potato processors and growers are involved in the group but not supermarkets.

“We’re part of an alliance of concerned potato growers and industry groups but the supermarkets are not involved,” he said.

“There are growers of all sizes, big and small.

“Each state is represented and each sector of the potato industry is also represented; seed growers, process growers, and also fresh market growers so that covers the three sectors.”

Mr Hardman – who also works for Simplot Australia – said it was decided not to identify the entire group “because we did not believe it was in interests of our business case”.

“The reason why we’ve kept it reasonably quiet is because we want our business case that we’re putting forward to the minister to be valued on its own merits and the same for AusVeg,” he said.

“We don’t want to get into a political fight or game, which it looks like they (AusVeg) and some parliamentarians are trying to do.

“We don’t want to make it a political fight or in the (media) fight and we want our submission to stand on its merits.

“We hope the minister will make a decision on who will be the peak body for potatoes based on those two submissions and not because of lobbying by parliamentarians and others.”

Mr Hardman said the PPAA was a peak industry body that represented potato industry processors.

He said the potato industry was unique in that growers and processers all paid the same levy of 50 cents per tonne which contributed to R&D projects with matching government funding.

“We were a prescribed industry body when HAL was set up 18 years ago, similar to AusVeg, and others,” he said.

Asked how he rated his group’s chances of becoming the industry’s peak body, Mr Hardman said he only hoped for a fair hearing from Mr Joyce.

“We’d like to think the minister takes a fair view of both submissions,” he said.

“We’re making a statement that we’re going to be an organisation that’s transparent and consultative with our grower base and accountable.

“We’ll be working with the grass roots growers and will look for genuine input from growers into R&D projects because we don’t believe that’s been happening.”

AusVeg CEO Richard Mulcahy said his group had held cordial discussions with the Minister about the matter and was “not particularly concerned by a few people with grumbles, which exist in every agricultural industry, and has always been the case”.

“AusVeg is one of the most successful groups in all of agriculture,” he said.

“We remain focused on getting the best outcomes for our growers.”

At a recent public hearing of the federal senate inquiry into agricultural levies, Mr Mulcahy said AUSVEG was the national peak industry body representing the interests of approximately 9000 Australian vegetable and potato growers who pay national vegetable and potato levies.

He said the vegetable levy contribution from growers for the last year was $7.56 million received and matching a Commonwealth contribution of $7.7 million.

He said potatoes had a much smaller levy, with total income of $926,000 and the government contribution was $808,000.

“Other income was $25,000, giving a total of about $1.75 million,” he said.

Mulcahy said levy funding – which contributed to projects that would otherwise not receive the required attention or investment – was “a major factor in the continued health of our agricultural R&D sector”.

“The R&D projects funded through this system provide very real and significant returns not just at the farm gate but across the industry as a whole,” he said.

“The disbursement of the vegetable and potato levies is subject to strict governance arrangements which ensure accountability and transparency.”

Mr Mulcahy said the levy system was generally working but he believed there are probably too many industry bodies.

“We have 150 commodities yet there are other industries like chestnuts and persimmons that have one industry body for one commodity,” he said.

“It just does not seem administratively very efficient.

“There are 43 bodies in horticulture; I would think you could get away with six… but not 43.”

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Sweet and sour side of Kandy

Sweet and sour side of Kandy Xavier Lane (left) and Marlowe Patch feed elephants at the Millennium Elephant park at Pinawella, Sri Lanka
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Sri Lankans gather on the beach at Pitiwella on a public holiday

Sri Lankans gather on the beach at Pitiwella on a public holiday

Jude Lane on a Sri Lankan train

Talking to the locals at Colombo train station: Lleft to right) Jude Lane, Xavier Lane, Melinda McMillan and Ivy Lane.

Xavier Lane at the turtle sanctuary.

Ivy Lane learns to drive a tuk tuk.

Jude Lane on a Sri Lankan train.

TweetFacebookTRAVEL in Sri Lanka with children is not for the helicopter parent, but if you are willing to take some risks, hold on for the ride and let go of your anxiety, it is a great family destination.

I had visited Sri Lanka over the summer of 1994-95 as a 25-year-old backpacker. I spent six weeks at Hikkaduwa, en route to India. My memories were of an unspoilt coast with an incredible surf break.

In Sri Lanka, I thought I had found paradise with very few tourists due to a civil war raging in the north. A war, incidentally, I was oblivious to at the time.

Returning had me filled with curiosity about how much this country may have changed since the end of the war in 2009, and the impact its fledgling tourism industry may be having.

This trip would be very different; I would be taking my children, 9, 10 and 14. I was more than a little afraid. I bought travel insurance and hoped for the best. It was their first overseas travel experience and they could not wait.

There are no direct flights to the capital, Colombo. The most direct and cheapest route is via Kuala Lumpur. We arrived in Colombo after 18 hours in transit, exhausted and ready to sleep.

Our accommodation had been booked online. When we arrived no one at reception knew about it. There was confusion, phone calls, and eventually a room. The lodgings bore little resemblance to the pictures on the website. Exposed electrical wiring, windows that didn’t lock, shards of glass in sills as crime prevention, and a courtyard was filled with rubbish dropped from the floors above. My danger radar went into overdrive.

“Is this what Sri Lanka is going to be like, Mum?”

The next day, with another family from Australia, we made our way by minibus through Colombo’s congested streets, dodging people, tuk tuks and dogs, for the train to Kandy.

Rail is the best way to see this country. Red rattlers with opening windows weave their way along the golden coast and up into hill country. The trains are old and not clean, and packed to the rafters, but they are cheap, and quite an experience.

On board, hawkers walk the isles with snacks – masala vadai, spicy vegetable roti and deep fried prawns – served in old newspapers. I tried not to think about poisonous ink.

Beggars might ask for a few rupee in exchange for a song and the locals love to chat and find out where you come from. The children couldn’t believe the sights and sounds before them on the trains. But it’s the scenery that is breathtaking as the train climbs towards Kandy, the spiritual home of Buddhist community, capital of the former kingdom, and with a sacred lake at its centre.

We spent our first night in a clean, well run, family-owned lodge, where the children delighted at the sight of tiny squirrels darting up trees and monkeys roving across rooftops. And we enjoyed our first home-cooked Sri Lankan meal.

According to travel guides, there are three “must dos” in Kandy: the relic of the Buddha’s tooth, a traditional dancing show, and an elephant sanctuary.

If you visit the relic, purportedly one of the Buddha’s canine teeth, you’ll be charged the tourist rate, wait in a very long queue and weave your way at a snail’s pace up into an very hot attic for a glimpse, from afar, of the tooth, barely visible.

There are several places to see a traditional dance show, five nights a week. I thought it was lacklustre but the kids enjoyed it.

The real highlight was the Millennium Elephant Foundation, near Kandy. It’s home to eight rescued elephants, which the children fed, rode and washed.

But it was Kandy’s bustling street life that really captured their attention: markets, food stalls and women in colourful saris, even an organ grinder with a monkey on a street corner.

The children wanted to be out and among it constantly. But there were dangers: the traffic was crazy and our 14-year-old daughters attracted a lot of male attention.

Determined not to deny the children a full experience, I sat back feeling sick as they stuck their heads and limbs out of trains. When a tuk tuk rider offered to teach my younger two to drive in peak hour traffic, I let them and they loved it.

Frequently, we were the only foreign faces in the crowd, and the locals are curious. There are rip-offs and confidence tricks, but the people don’t yet have foreigner fatigue.

With children, the food was an issue. Everything in Sri Lanka is spicy, even when the cook assures you it is not. It was hard to find foods they could eat.

Outside Kandy, at Aladeniya, we spent four nights at an old whitewashed colonial home called The Mansion. Our arrival was quite British-in-India – we were met by young men in traditional dress bearing cool drinks and cold towels – and the massive rooms were decorated with colonial furniture. We were the only guests and enjoyed breakfast on the lawn and dinners in the courtyard. The food was fantastic. The children spent most of their time in the pool, which was, of course, unfenced. I read a book.

We went back to Colombo for sightseeing and shopping before retiring to a beachside villa at Pitiwella, near Galle, in the southern province. It was monsoon season, and we were blasted by winds and rains, but on the third day blue skies opened up. The surf was too rough to swim, but the pool was good. We made day trips into Galle’s historic fort area, where we shopped, enjoyed seafood and walked among colonial buildings and on the walls of the fort.

I took a day trip back to Hikkaduwa, which had been the cornerstone of my first trip. Sadly, the quiet beachside village had given way to cheap, ugly development. We tried to visit the tsunami museum, but for reasons that never became apparent our driver refused to take us. We had chosen not to stay at the beachside town of Unawatuna due to a bum steer from The Lonely Planet, which said it was over-developed. But when we visited, we discovered a beach protected from the monsoons, quaint streets, restaurants, cafes and a manageable level of tourism. We visited twice and the children finally got to swim in the Laccadive Sea.

On an afternoon trip to Kosgoda Turtle Sanctuary, the children learnt about the breeding program, toured the facility, and at sunset released baby turtles into the ocean. We finished up in luxury at the Hilton Colombo, where they soaked up hours of television, even though it was not in English, and enjoyed the plush rooms, room service and a huge pool.

On our last night we toured Colombo atop an open-roofed double decker London bus. We narrowly missed colliding with overhead wires, but made it back alive.

Sri Lanka was hard work with children. I had one goal: keep them alive. But they were blind to my fear, and experienced a culture unlike anything at home. It opened their eyes to another world and another way.

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How would Jason Day spend $10 million?

Some would splurge on a luxury car. Others would add to their investment portfolio. How would Jason Day spend $10 million? He’d get down to a local mall and pick up a few V-neck jumpers.
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“I might buy a few more V-necks from Target, that’s what I usually do,” the Australian said, when asked what he might do with the epic payday that potentially awaits him in a few days’ time.

Then, asked

how he would describe his playing style, Day produced another killer quote that sums up why he is becoming one of the country’s most admired sporting figures..

“It’s like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy had a baby – and I was it,” said Day, pointing out how his powerful ball-striking, or “length”, was comparable to that of world No.2 McIlroy, while his putting and chipping, “short game”, was comparable to that of world No.3 Spieth – golf’s new world order.

Day is so hot right now, he is even being ranked No.1 in the world for press conferences.

The PGA Tour’s media department have called the Spieth-McIlroy “love child comment” its quote of the year.

Day has the unwavering self-confidence – or “swagger” as the Americans call it – that you simply must have to become the world’s best golfer.

He didn’t even blink this week when described being “in the zone” right now, an American-ism sportspeople use for that magical mental state one enters and, once there, can do no wrong.

But that brashness does not define his public image (if fact it doesn’t even come close) because of the other side of Day – call it the “V-neck” effect – that portrays the humble qualities that make up a champion who has just as many kind words for those around him, as he does for himself.

His humility overpowers to the point where any cockiness that might unwittingly slip is endearing rather than jarring.

It’s why very few Australians would begrudge him possibly banking the biggest single-day payout a professional sportsperson from this country has ever seen.

Even though he is already a millionaire several times over – all up his career-earnings exceed $US28 million – we will be happy to see his him break the bank over and over.

Day has had some big days already this year.

But this Monday could be his biggest – maybe not in his eyes, but likely in those watching him back home in Australia.

Put simply, he could enter rare air. It’s not all about the money, clearly. But winning $16 million in one day (Australian dollars, that is) will create a lot of headlines back here and give him a unique place in our sporting history.

The $16 million bounty is the prize for becoming the first Australian to win the “FedEx Cup”.

The “grand final” for that end-of-season trophy is the last event of the PGA Tour – the “Tour Championship” – which starts on early Friday morning, Australian AEST, and ends early Monday.

Day cannot be the first Australian to win the Masters. He wanted to be, so much, and planned to scatter some of his father’s ashes at Augusta once he did to fulfil his dying wish.

He is world No.1 and Australia’s youngest ever, but he wasn’t the first, and we won’t know for a long time whether he can ever eclipse Greg Norman’s mark of 331 weeks as “the man”.

Those are the two achievements, winning a green jacket (which he hasn’t done yet) and becoming world No.1, Day holds closest to his chest.

He admitted this week that the money would probably “pop into his brain” (how could it not) but it’s never been what he plays for.

“I don’t really spend money, mate,” Day added to his “V-neck” comment.

“I mean I have some nice stuff. I might buy some new clothes because I’ve still got clothes five years old that I wear today. I am a very simple man. Just be able to put it away and save it.”

Yet it’s impossible for the Queenslander to know how big a story winning the FedEx Cup will be, for no one has done it in this country.

It does not have the history that makes the Masters so sacred. The concept of the FedEx Cup – golf’s version of the AFL premiership – was only introduced in 2007. But in time it will, and who knows how big its prestige might grow.

In terms of prizemoney – the $US10 million cheque handed to the winner is five times that of the Masters or any other of the other majors.

Looking back in 50 years’ time – when that $US10 million could be goodness knows how much – Day might think it neat he was the first Australian to climb this particular mountain. But first he must get there, and he will certainly need his swagger to swing it.

Part of the reason why the FedEx Cup does not sit at the same level as the majors in the Australian sporting public’s collective consciousness is the convoluted nature of its qualifying system.

Over the past three weeks, the world’s top 125 golfers have been cut to fields of 100 and then 70 over three “play-off” tournaments, leaving just 30 to contest this week’s Tour Championship.

Day has won two of those three events – The Barclays and the BMW Championship – amassing FedEx Cup points along the way that have ranked him No.1 in the standings.

He comes into this week on 6680 points, which is 2288 points more than his nearest rival, Spieth, and a seemingly insurmountable lead given the final event only offers a maximum of 2000 points for the winner.

However this is the kicker for Day. All points earned up to this week are actually wiped and then “reset” for the final event, based on each player’s final ranking.

It means Day’s No.1 position gives him the greatest chance of winning as compared to any of his 29 fellow competitors, but not an exclusive one.

Day will start the tournament at a “reset” points total of 2000, ahead of Spieth on 1800, Rickie Fowler on 1600, Henrik Stenson on 1440 and Bubba Watson on 1280 – the top five players in the standings who are close enough to snatch the cash from Day with a victory this week.

If none of those other four players actually win the event, the prime No.1 position essentially gives Day more scenarios in which he can to still finish on top of the standings – and claim the $US10 million bonus – should he also fail to win the Tour Championship.

For instance, Day can finish as low as 29th in the 30-player field and still win provided the right player wins for that to happen. Spieth, on the other hand, can only finish as low as sixth and still win provided all other placings fall his way. And so on.

Here are a few other need-to-know facts about the event that could become Jason’s biggest Day.

– The player who entered the Tour Championship ranked No. 1 – which Day has this year – has won the FedEx Cup three times out of eight times. No one has done it since Tiger Woods in 2009.

– Day would not be the first player to win two “play-off” events but not the FedEx Cup. McIlroy won the second and third lead-up events in 2012, but American Brandt Snedeker stole the big prize by winning the Tour Championship after solid placings in the other play-off events put him in the frame.

– Day would be the only player ever to win three out of the four play-off events if he were to add the Tour Championship to his wins at The Barclays and BMW Championship.

– A score of 13-under in the Tour Championship would elevate Day’s combined under-par score for the four play-off events to 60-under, which would beat Woods’ current record of 59-under set in the 2007 play-offs.

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High turn-off hits national herd

AFTER experiencing unprecedented turn-off (slaughter and live exports) in 2014, the Australian cattle industry is likely to see significant adjustments over the coming years, says Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).
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The high turn-off has had a dramatic impact on the national herd, estimated to have declined from a 35 year high, to a two decade low, in the space of just 24 months.

The flow-on effects from this are likely to last for the duration of the projection period (2020), impacting available supplies, while at the same time, testing market willingness to compete for limited product.

While the decline in 2015 is dramatic, putting the volumes into context, production levels are anticipated to be in line with the 10 year average. Regardless, having come from such supply highs, an adjustment across the supply chain is inevitable, having a range of consequences, including how cattle and boxed beef will be balanced between new and existing customers. This will be the case again in 2016 when further supply shortages are expected.

Indicative beef export prices during 2014 were at record highs, and are forecast to remain strong over the coming 12 months – given current low US beef production and strong global demand assisted by a devaluing $A.

This suggests that while Australian supplies are likely to decline over the coming 24 months, there will be potential for farm gate prices to lift. This has been exemplified by the recent sudden jump in prices, following widespread rainfall over the Christmas period.

Given the strength of the US market in particular, and under the assumption of tighter Australian beef production, an export market realignment is anticipated, with a greater proportion of exports trending back toward the larger, traditional markets of the US, Japan and Korea. The domestic market looks to remain under pressure.

On the live export front, demand is likely to remain robust, with the live trade continuing to contribute an important portion of turn-off. With fewer cattle available, and assuming uninterrupted market access, the South East Asian markets, in particular Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia, should continue dominating the trade for both feeder and slaughter cattle.

One of the key assumptions forming the basis of the 2015 cattle industry projections is that Australia will phase out of drought over the coming 12 months, with a greater proportion of production and exports to occur in the first half of the year, before easing in the final quarters.

With this as a key assumption, and given not only the seasonal variability, but the heavy influence seasonal conditions play on the Australian beef supply situation, the MLA Cattle Industry Projections will be updated on a quarterly basis.

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WA Libs lead spill motion

Prime Minister Tony Abbott.WESTERN Australian backbenchers Luke Simpkins and Don Randall have announced they will move a leadership spill against the Prime Minister on Tuesday, declaring Tony Abbott’s decision to knight Prince Philip was the “final proof” of disconnection with voters.
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Mr Simpkins emailed colleagues on Friday to say he had been inundated by voters with concerns about the direction of the government.

“I think that we must bring this to a head and test the support of the leadership of the party room””The last time this outpouring of concern happened was when we were being led to support the Rudd government’s ETS [emissions trading scheme] and faced with this erosion of our base support we acted,” he said.

“I think that we must bring this to a head and test the support of the leadership of the party room.

“I have therefore submitted to the chief government whip a motion to spill the leadership positions of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party.”

The motion threatens to end Tony Abbott’s tenure as Prime Minister.

It also means deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop’s position will also be up for grabs.

Comment is being sought from Ms Bishop and the other leadership contender, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Leadership speculation has been building since Mr Abbott’s infamous Australia Day honour, with his decision to knight Prince Philip widely ridiculed. The party’s disastrous performance in the Queensland state election on the weekend put further pressure on the Prime Minister.

In a statement, Chief Government Whip Philip Ruddock said Mr Abbott had agreed to have the spill motion “listed for discussion” on Tuesday.

Mr Ruddock said the motion by Mr Simpkins and seconded by Mr Randall proposes that “the Liberal Party room resolve, via secret ballot, that the senior positions of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party be declared vacant”.

In his email to colleagues, Mr Simpkins said “this gives you all an opportunity to either endorse the Prime Minister or to seek a new direction”.

“As I have said in the past, I have no front bench ambitions. I just want to make sure that the economic vandals do not get back into power and our children and grandchildren are not left to pay Labor’s bill,” he wrote.

“I do this because I believe it is in the best interests of the people of our country.”

Earlier on Friday, Ms Bishop passed up an opportunity to try and quell backbench unrest, saying those pushing for a spill to topple Mr Abbott as Prime Minister will do as they see fit.

Ms Bishop, who a week ago was considered a leadership contender, is now shoring up her own position as deputy.

When asked if she would advise her colleagues against launching an attempt to dislodge Mr Abbott, Ms Bishop declined.

“No, I don’t have any advice for my colleagues because they are elected members of Parliament and they will take whatever action they see fit,” she said.

“My message to the backbench is focus on teamwork, focus on what we can achieve as a united cohesive team.”

– More to come

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Spill is ‘self-indulgent crap’: Madigan

Senator John Madigan.VICTORIAN independent Senator John Madigan says rural communities and voters are fed up with “self-indulgent crap” from successive governments arguing over leadership.
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His comments come as news broke of a leadership ballot being moved against Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the Liberal party room next week, when parliament resumes for the first time this year, in Canberra.

Chief Government Whip and Liberal MP Philip Ruddock issued a statement saying he’d received a notice of motion from Western Australian Liberal Luke Simpkins and seconded by colleague Don Randall proposing the Liberal Party Room “resolve, via secret ballot, that the senior positions of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party be declared vacant”.

“The Prime Minister has indicated this motion will be listed for discussion at the Liberal Party Meeting on Tuesday,” Mr Ruddock said.

Senator Madigan said the move to try and remove Mr Abbott as Prime Minister was “bloody stupid”.

“People make mistakes,” he said. “But people everywhere are fed up with this self-indulgent crap.

“I wish they’d just get on with the job of governing the country – whether it’s the ALP or the Liberals.

“We can’t afford to continue with this self-indulgent crap.”

Senator Madigan has this week been on a tour of communities in the Murray-Darling Basin in NSW and Victoria gauging their thoughts and feelings on the Basin Plan and its threat to irrigated agriculture.

He said Mr Abbott’s leadership of the Coalition was raised by communities who want to see their political leaders deliver good government policy and results, rather than an ongoing focus on personality.

Next week’s ballot arrives after increasing speculation and doubt over Mr Abbott’s leadership credentials, following his awarding of a knighthood to Prince Philip on Australia day.

‘We are not the Labor Party’Mr Abbott warned his colleagues against repeating “the chaos and the instability of the Labor years” in a statement.

“As you know, two of my colleagues have called for a leadership spill of the two senior positions in our Party,” he said.

“The first point to make is that they are perfectly entitled to call for this, but the next point to make is that they are asking the Party Room to vote out the people that the electorate voted in in September 2013.

“I want to make this very simple point: we are not the Labor Party. We are not the Labor Party and we are not going to repeat the chaos and the instability of the Labor years.

“So, I have spoken to Deputy Leader Julie Bishop and we will stand together in urging the Party Room to defeat this particular motion, and in so doing, and in defeating this motion to vote in favour of the stability and the team that the people voted for at the election.”

Nats could walk, says JoyceAgriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce warned the Nationals could walk away from the Coalition in the wake of an upcoming spill next Tuesday.

“What I say to my colleagues in the Liberal party is this: we didn’t want this. We gave you fair warning,” Mr Joyce said.

“Do not consider that the National party support is without question.

“If all of a sudden a different person is walking down the aisle towards us, don’t necessarily think the wedding is still on.”

Mr Joyce called for the Liberal party to restore stability and said the leadership sideshow was distracting from important issues in regional areas.

“We do not condone chaos – that’s what the Australian people voted against at the last election.”

Turnbull, Abbott ‘cut from the same cloth’Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the Liberal government was in chaos and key leadership contender and former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull “may have a nicer suit than Tony Abbott”.

“But when it comes to cost of living pressures and cutting a billion dollars from child care, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott are cut from the same cloth,” he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has also been touted as a possible replacement but the Nationals have expressed a lack of confidence in Mr Turnbull due to his views on climate change policy and impacts on farmers.

The Nationals have also said the Coalition agreement is between Mr Abbott and party leader Warren Truss and would need to be renegotiated if there was any change of Liberal Leader.

Nationals NSW MP and assistant finance minister Michael McCormack said the leadership of the Liberals was “entirely a matter for them”.

He said the Nationals, as a party yesterday at a planning meeting in Wodonga, Victoria, “again reiterated our support for the current Prime Minister”.

“It’s too early for a change,” he said.

“The public perception of us making a change now would not be good and in the eyes of many we would be seen as being no better than the rabble we replaced and often perception is reality in politics.

“I wish these disaffected Liberals would take a Bex and lie down; they’ve been far too outspoken and far too rebellious.

“Disunity is death in politics and it’s not as if things were that bad that it needed to come to this.”

Mr McCormack said if there was a change of leader “and that’s being really hypothetical”, any replacement, including Mr Turnbull, would need to sit down with the National party’s leadership including Mr Truss and deputy-leader Barnaby Joyce for talks “and work through the thing that matter most to us”.

He said those issues included the regions, rural health and agriculture.

“But at the end of the day, if the Liberals go changing their leaders then the Coalition agreement is no longer valid,” he said.

Hockey won’t speculateLiberal Treasurer Joe Hockey pledged his support for Mr Abbott saying, “I’m not getting into speculation about numbers”.

“The only numbers I’m worried about are the Budget numbers, and every single day the Australian government is spending $100 million more than it collects in revenue and the people that are in the way of us actually addressing that structural challenge are the Labor Party, the Greens, the Independents and the Senate,” he said.

“It is clearly unsustainable for Australia to have a government that continues to spend $100 million more than it collects every day.

“Even as I stand, we are spending $40 million today just on the interest on the debt, and the debt is building and building every single day because in order to make up that shortfall of $100 million a day, we have to borrow more money, and that’s just for our everyday costs of living as a government.

“So, everyone knows from a childcare centre operator and owner, right through to someone running a family budget, it is unsustainable to continue on a path where you spend more than you collect every single day.”

A test of characterIn his speech at the National Press Club on Monday, Mr Abbott conceded that responding to ongoing conjecture about his leadership was now a big test for the government.

“This will be a test of character,” he said.

“Now politicians pass the test when they do what is best for the long-term, not when they give in to short-term fear and make a difficult situation worse. That’s the situation.

“Sure, we’ve had a bad patch, what do you do when you have a bad patch?

“You can buckle down to business or not, but failing to buckle down to business always makes a bad situation worse.

“So that’s the conversation that I’ve had with many of my colleagues.”

But Mr Abbott also admitted his government gave some commitments in the last election campaign that they have not been able to keep, including his promise to not cut the ABC or SBS budgets.

“But I also say – and I think the public understands this – that the situation that we thought we were facing at the time of the election turned out to be different,” he said.

Mr Abbott said heading into the 2013 campaign the then-government said the deficit for that financial year would be $18 billion but in the end was $30b more.

He said not cutting the ABC was, “a commitment that we weren’t able to keep – but I think the Australian public understand that when circumstances change sometimes governments have got to adjust to those changing circumstances”.

– with ERIN HANDLEY

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Nats could walk, says Joyce

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.AGRICULTURE Minister Barnaby Joyce has warned the Nationals may walk away from the Coalition in the wake of an upcoming spill on Tuesday.
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News of the spill broke on Friday when Western Australian Liberal MP Luke Simpkins confirmed he will seek a leadership spill against Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

“What I say to my colleagues in the Liberal party is this: we didn’t want this. We gave you fair warning,” Mr Joyce told The Northern Daily Leader.

“Do not consider that the National party support is without question.”

“If all of a sudden a different person is walking down the aisle towards us, don’t necessarily think the wedding is still on.”

Mr Joyce called for the Liberal party to restore stability and said the leadership sideshow was distracting from important issues in regional areas.

“We do not condone chaos – that’s what the Australian people voted against at the last election.”

“This airing of public laundry is more of a sordid soap. It’s intriguing and exciting but it is not endearing.”

“I’m extremely disappointed that this process is now afoot.”

“The Australian people deserve respect by having people act in a diligent and dignified way.”

“We will be thinking of our constituents in regional areas and the nation.”

The announcement of the spill follows rampant speculation about a leadership challenge that escalated after the Prime Minister knighted Prince Philip as part of the Australia Day honours.

When questioned whether Mr Joyce was still willing to bet his Tamworth house on Mr Abbott leading the Coalition to the next election, Mr Joyce demurred and said his initial bet was the public would not be speaking about Prince Philip at the next election, and it was ABC 7.30’s Leigh Sales who had upped the stakes.

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Turning farms into ‘fortresses’

Chairman of the Livestock Biosecurity Network David Palmer.FARMERS should treat their boundary fences the same way they expect the federal government to protect our national borders, says David Palmer, chairman of the Livestock Biosecurity Network (LBN).
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The former managing director of Meat and Livestock Australia wants producers to turn their farms into fortresses against the incursion of pests and diseases.

He said the LBN, although small and lean, was having success raising awareness about the beneficial impact that good on-farm biosecurity management has on producers’ bottom lines.

The LBN’s main aim was to encourage farmers to better understand the value of their livestock assets and the need to adopt biosecurity practices that improved animal welfare and productivity as well as reducing costs, he said.

The LBN was established nationally in 2013 as a three-year pilot program by the Sheepmeat and Cattle Councils of Australia and WoolProducers Australia with the support of $5 million in grower transaction levies held in trust.

The peak livestock and wool councils were responding to rising industry concerns about the impact of diseases and pests on the farming economy.

At the top of Australia’s farm biosecurity risk management programs is ensuring we are well prepared for an outbreak of disastrous exotic diseases, notably foot and mouth, but keeping endemic diseases and pests such as lice, footrot, OJD and invasive weeds off farms are also essential for healthy and profitable farms.

Mr Palmer said the performance of the LBN would be independently reviewed at the end of this year or early in 2016 and while he personally didn’t support any major expansion he believed the network could have an important ongoing role in changing attitudinal behaviour to biosecurity among producers and others in the supply chain, such as agents, stock carriers and saleyard operators.

The LBN’s six regional officers strategically located around the country had been building networks with existing organisations involved in biosecurity such as departments of agriculture, farm organisations, farmer groups, agribusinesses and stock agents, Mr Palmer said.

The LBN was using these public/private partnerships to roll out initiatives, workshops and projects aimed at improving farmer awareness of biosecurity risks as well as the practices that minimised them, he said.

The LBN officers were also helping co-ordinate specific biosecurity programs to tackle problems and issues raised by farmers in their region such as wild dog and lice control and better preparing stock for road transport to markets and abattoirs.

“The LBN is about money. It’s about helping farmers protect their livestock assets which, in some cases, are worth millions of dollars,” Mr Palmer said.

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US market embracing Aussie beef

THE United States is proving to be the land of opportunity for Australian beef producers, soaking up nearly 400,000 tonnes of Aussie beef in 2014 and showing no signs of coming off the pace in 2015.
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Along with sheer tonnage, Australia is driving a thin wedge into the US grassfed beef market, a small but growing and important niche.

Advice on “healthy eating” that includes beef now seldom to fails to mention grassfed and/or organic in the same context. Australia is a prominent producer of both categories.

All the signs for continued demand from the US market are favourable, reports David Pietsch, Meat and Livestock Australia’s International Business manager. The biggest cloud in the picture is Australia’s ability to supply that demand as the flow of local slaughter cattle shrinks.

US cattle prices slipped slightly in late 2014, but they still remain well above the long-term average. US Department of Agriculture forecasts that 2015 prices will be around the same levels as at the end of 2014.

The price of Australian beef is trending up, too, in line with the increased cost of cattle following widespread rain.

In most markets, as the price of a commodity climbs, consumers tend to move away to buy something else. But this is America.

“There are reports – or at least talk – of more chicken and pork items on menus in the US, including in quick service restaurants and chains that traditionally have relied heavily on ground beef,” Mr Pietsch said.

“For poultry in particular, there is some inevitability that as it increases production it will grow usage due to price advantages. That said, growth in burger sales is still very strong as the US economy continues to recover, and that is a good sign of resilient beef demand.”

Within all this activity is the growing US demand for grassfed beef.

“We don’t want to oversell it,” Mr Pietsch said of the US grassfed market. “It remains only a niche imported segment within a massive domestic grainfed protein market, but I’m sure most Australian grassfed beef producers would be quietly pleased that their product is gaining more recognition for its positive attributes, rather than being seen purely as a commodity.”

MLA’s grassfed beef marketing efforts, in partnership with suppliers, have been “strongly directed” by the desire of AgForce Cattle and Cattle Council of Australia’s (CCA) marketing taskforce members to promote grassfed beef’s positive attributes in the US market.

The timing seems about right. Chilled grassfed beef exports to the US were up 89 per cent year-on-year in 2014, amounting to more than A$1 billion for the year.

A “significant amount” is finding its way onto retail shelves and in foodservice outlets supplying consumers focused on healthy and natural foods. Rapidly expanding burger chain Chipotle is buying an unknown quantity of Australian grassfed beef as part of its “responsible sourcing” program that focuses on grassfed and hormone free product.

Mr Pietsch thinks Australian grassfed beef sales in the US are falling into three main categories.

The long-standing market for frozen, lean, grassfed manufacturing beef still accounts for 65-70 per cent of Australian exports to the US, and has grown off the back of lower cow slaughter in the US.

In the next tier is beef for further processing or value-adding into manufactured meat products, meal solutions, jerky, or foodservice preparations like beef fajitas and deli meats.

The “much smaller but growing” niche is in retail, Mr Pietsch said. Retail is absorbing a range of products, like the one-pound ground beef ‘brick’ (mince), chilled ribeyes, tenderloins, striploins (sirloin), and top sirloin (rump). A growing number of restaurants are taking “considerable amounts of chilled beef”.

Future growth in these segments will somewhat be dictated by continued growth in US market demand, Mr Pietsch concluded, and by Australia’s capacity to supply.

MLA’s marketing is concentrating on developing brand loyalty to Aussie beef, in the hope that US consumers will continue to seek out the product in the face of potentially higher prices.

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Sense of belonging

Mireille JuchauMIREILLE Juchau is unsure whether her third novel, The World Without Us, should be classified as “cli-fi”, an emerging genre of fiction that puts our changing climate squarely in the middle of a story.
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Bees are dying, properties are being sold off to mining companies, there’s a sense of despair among the farmers; it’s a near future that rings too true. But, like books such as Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour which have both been placed in this genre, the real story here is about people and the things that bind them together in the face of adversity.

“One of the things I was interested in engaging with,” Juchau says, “were questions around what happens to us when our environment changes.

“I wanted to explore how climate change affects us internally . . . what that does to our sense of belonging and what happens to us when we don’t recognise the places we’re attached to.”

Juchau says she read an interview with United States environmentalist Bill McKibben, who said one of the best things we could do, in preparing for climate change, was to live somewhere with a strong sense of community.

“I have always been really interested in how our communities support us when everything around us is shifting and changing,” she says. “But what happens when those communities fracture and how do we survive that?”

And in a sense that’s what happens in The World Without Us. The Muller family is reeling. Stefan, the father, is watching his bees die; Evangeline, the mother, is grieving for a daughter, seeking consolation in the arms of Jim, an outsider who is also grieving the loss of a child. Their daughters Tess and Meg are struggling too: Tess has stopped talking; Meg’s art is dark.

“Family is a kind of community but when a family experiences some kind of thing that fractures it, when there are problems in a family, we’re forced to create something outside the family to support us until it’s resolved,” Juchau says.

“That’s very much what’s going on with the family in my novel, there’s something that’s unarticulated and that means one of the central characters has to find her support elsewhere.”

In a sense the Mullers’ story engrosses you so much that you forget about the environmental concerns even though they are always there, looming.

And that was precisely Juchau’s intention.

“The books I love to read are not didactic. I love how you can read something that has incredibly powerful things to say about the world and about our emotional selves but you gain that through the story and through engaging with the characters.

“I love novels of ideas, where the ideas take centre stage, but I felt here I wasn’t trying to convey one single message, one particular thing to get across, but rather involved myself in the complexity of these questions. I think if you want to be true to the subject [of climate change] you have to acknowledge its complexity. No one has a single solution to what’s happening to our environment. There are many competing voices, competing stories.”

Juchau, 45, has two children of her own, now 13 and 10. Looking at climate change from their point of view was an interesting part of the process with this novel.

“How do we talk to children about the world that they’re inheriting and what do they think about these narratives that are constantly surrounding them about the world ending, this very apocalyptic narrative about what’s going on in our environment?

“Perhaps it isn’t necessarily the best story for children and maybe we need to think about how children manage that huge burden of the future.”

The World Without Us

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Legislate on buyback cap, says Ley

Bob Baldwin and Sussan Ley on the MDB listening tour this week.NSW Liberal MP Sussan Ley has urged the Coalition government to move on legislating for the 1500 gigalitre cap on water buybacks they committed to in opposition.
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“We’ve got to ensure that rural industries in the Murray-Darling Basin survive and thrive,” she said, standing alongside new Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister, Bob Baldwin, at Tuesday’s funding announcement near Deniliquin.

“A legislated cap will give additional security to irrigated agriculture – and that’s vital.”

Mr Baldwin said he’d only been in his new job five weeks and hadn’t formally returned to parliament since the appointment was made, to consider any draft legislation related to advancing the water buyback cap.

He said any draft legislation would be put through Environment Minister Greg Hunt to take to cabinet for final approval.

He stressed the cap was a Coalition election commitment and “we’re committed to it”. But he said, “We’re not going to put legislation to the parliament if the Senate is going to play silly buggers and knock it back”.

Mr Baldwin said the government would legislate the 1500GL cap but Victorian Independent Senator John Madigan, who also toured Basin communities this week to gather stakeholder views and support for a Senate inquiry into the Basin Plan, must vote with the government.

“All he (Senator Madigan) has to do is step up to the plate and support us in our legislative agenda to deliver the outcomes that you the people want on the land,” he said.

“We don’t have time for politics – we’ve got a potential dry period of 10 years coming ahead of us – we need to deliver outcomes and that requires the support of the States and the Senate.

“We can either play parliamentary games and make ourselves look big in the media by having all these inquiries, or you can get off your ass and actually vote for the legislation that’ll go through.

“People say it’s time for the rubber to hit the road well it’s time for the water to hit the weir.

“What we need is we need actually to see it (the Basin Plan) rolled out.

“Enough pontification, enough talk, now it’s time to walk the walk.

“There are people wanting too many inquiries (and) too much dialogue.

“It’s time to actually engage, get on top of it and start delivering and we want to deliver outcomes but we can’t deliver outcomes while people keep holding things up.”

Ms Ley said she believed the recent change in leadership at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) would help to improve consultation with stakeholders in her electorate and generate better understanding, given Mr Andrew is an ex-irrigator.

She said it was “fair to say” some community members had lost confidence in the Authority, “when decisions and statements were made that didn’t pass the common sense test”.

“What we’ve missed out on is genuine consultation on the ground with communities,” she said while declining to give a specific example.

“I think it’s fair to say some in this community lost confidence in the Authority

Ms Ley said Mr Baldwin’s base understanding of agriculture’s economic importance to rural communities was a key to his new appointment.

“There are a lot of complexities in water and Bob is getting his head around all those and he will,” she said.

“But for me to have somebody in his position who ‘gets it’, in terms of we’re here to grow food to feed the nation and rice is a crop, a product and a contribution to the national economy that we should value as highly as possible…. is a great starting point.”

She said Mr Andrews would approach the Basin with a “neutral, dispassionate perspective but we’ll get him to feel pretty passionate about us”.

Mr Baldwin said he had no pre-conceived ideas about the Basin Plan but was “a very outcomes driven person”.

“You show me the method, show me the outcome (and) I will support the outcomes,” he said.

“We want outcomes for our farmers, we want outcomes for our environment (and) we want a balanced approach.

“I have no preconceived ideas – I came to this portfolio with a total open mind.

“I’m not an irrigator, I’m not a farmer so I’m prepared to sit down and listen to everyone.”

But Mr Baldwin reiterated the government’s key commitment to will deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, across the entire spectrum.

“We will deliver wins for farmers; we will deliver wins for the environment – that’s why the federal government is stumping up the cash,” he said.

“We need all of the States coming together and working as a homogenous team to deliver the outcome across the board because no one State can deliver it in isolation; it’s a team Australia approach.”

“The plan that’s there has been agreed to by all four states and what we need to do is get it implemented.

“When it first came out everyone was hostile about it because we all felt threatened by it”Father and son irrigation team, Alan and Will Wragge, hosted Bob Baldwin’s Murray Darling Basin delegation on their property Yaloke west of Deniliquin on Tuesday, where they run a mixed farming operation producing rice, wheat, barley and oats, along with merino sheep and fat lambs.

Alan said in his opinion rather than community opinion, he believed the Basin Plan had settled down now, after years of ongoing conjecture during the design phase.

“When it first came out everyone was hostile about it because we all felt threatened by it,” he said.

“I heard that buying water off the farmers had stripped 50 per cent of the water out of Wakool district and that will be a huge headache for Murray Irrigation, with huge costs.”

Will said he had no great concerns about the Basin Plan which had, “gone quiet for a while and everyone’s forgotten about it a bit”.

He said talk suggested the federal government would now be trying to recover the remaining water volumes it needed through water efficiency projects, rather than water buybacks, which was easing community anxiety.

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US lamb prices finish 2014 on a high

WHOLESALE prices for lamb in the US, Australia’s largest export lamb market, finished 2014 on a strong note, with carcases fetching prices not seen since mid-2012, and cuts for the foodservice sector maintaining their strong improvements achieved earlier in the year.
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Meat and Livestock Australia reports while there is often a seasonal increase in lamb prices ahead of Christmas, carcases finished 2014 over 30US¢ a pound higher than a year ago, and 70US¢/lb higher than two years ago.

In addition, there was a strong utilisation of lamb stocks that had been building up in cold storage. USDA data showing that a record high of 40.2 million lbs in cold storage at the end of August had dropped to 31.4 million lbs by the end of November, with an increase again in December to finish the year at 33.8 million lbs.

Australian exports of lamb to the US were also high towards the end of 2014, with negotiated trades reported by the USDA showing their highest weekly volume since at least November 2011 in the week before Christmas.

Import prices, while showing some volatility from week-to-week, have also held up well against the high volumes, likely assisted by the falling $A.

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NZ lamb shipments decline in 2014

New Zealand (NZ) lamb exports were slightly lower (3%) in 2014, compared to the previous year, at 298,231 tonnes swt.
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Shipments to the EU declined 5% for the year, totalling 116,787 tonnes swt – largely attributed to an 8% fall in volumes to the UK (59,005 tonnes swt) during the year.

NZ lamb exports to China remained relatively steady year-on-year, at 89,202 tonnes swt, while the Middle East took slightly more (1%) in 2014 than the previous year, at 25,564 tonnes swt. Volumes to the US and Canada were back 2% and 8% year-on-year, respectively, at 17,785 tonnes swt and 8,407 tonnes swt.

During the first month of 2015, NZX AgriHQ report that despite processors being fully booked, demand from China has been subdued in the lead up to Chinese New Year, which has put increased reliance on traditional markets such as the EU and the US. Although, NZX AgriHQ suggest that the EU market may be affected both by their economic situation and by high stock levels of pork which would usually be exported to Russia, but have been stopped by the international trade ban.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand forecast that lamb exports for the 2014-15 season (October 2014- September 2015) will total 297,000 tonnes swt – back 2.6% on the corresponding period the year before.

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