‘Kick up the bum’ for PM

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has received a “kick up the bum” from his Liberal party colleagues this week over persistent flaws in his leadership style.
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But the embattled leader has earned the right to continue on and achieve political atonement, says Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester.

On Monday, a spill motion on whether a leadership vote would be held in the Liberal party room was defeated 61 votes to 39 at a specially convened meeting in Canberra.

The motion resulted after a tense fortnight where speculation about Mr Abbott’s immediate future escalated dramatically following public mocking of his controversial decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip on Australia Day.

Less than a week later, the LNP’s poor showing at the Queensland State election with a huge swing to Labor rubbed salt into Mr Abbott’s already exposed political wounds.

How low can he go?Ahead of Monday’s party room crisis vote, new polling results confirmed the Prime Minister’s record low popularity, with Labor rated well ahead – 57 to 43 – in the two-party preferred category.

The Newspoll result, which coincided with parliament’s first sitting week of 2015, favoured Communications Minister and former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull as preferred Prime Minister over Mr Abbott by 64 per cent to 25pc.

Mr Turnbull defeated Mr Abbott for the Liberal leadership in 2009 and was touted as a potential candidate if the spill motion succeeded – along with foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop – but that scenario was avoided.

Despite the spill motion being defeated, many political analysts believe the 39 votes indicate Mr Abbott’s future remains in grave doubt and a change of leader is inevitable.

But Mr Chester said rural MPs and other elected representatives needed to acknowledge an increasingly volatile electorate existed now – both in metropolitan areas and regional areas – and “you need to be at the top of your game, all the time”.

“If the public thinks that you’re not listening to them or not responding to their concerns they will mark you down very quickly,” he said.

“There’s less rusted-on loyalty to an individual political party now than at any time in anyone’s living memory, and that means individual MPs and leaders need to be very finely attuned to the mood of the electorate and listen to their concerns and make sure we’re focusing on the national interest.

“I think the PM himself has indicated himself he was chastened by the fact there was a spill motion.

“The backbench has now flexed its muscles and indicated to the Prime Minister that he needed to change a few things.

“I think he’s heard the message and he’s now going to be given the opportunity to fix things.

“I’d say the Prime Minister has been given a kick up the bum and what he should be given now is a fair go and a chance to respond to the legitimate concerns that have been raised with him.”

Mr Chester said he also believed Mr Abbott was a “formidable politician” and anyone who underestimated did so “at their own peril”. He said in 2009 the Labor party laughed when he was appointed Coalition leader – but then he almost won the 2010 election and went on to win in 2013.

“I think what you’ll see now is this Prime Minister, with his back to the wall, will be at his best,” he said.

“And I’m very confident that we in the National Party can work with him to deliver for regional Australia.”

Unconditional support from NatsThe Nationals backed Mr Abbott’s leadership unanimously in the lead-up to this week’s spill motion.

Mr Chester said the National Party had built a very strong relationship with Mr Abbott over five years, “based on mutual respect, trust and loyalty”.

“The Nationals were rock solid throughout this whole process, we supported Tony Abbott’s prime ministership because we believe he has the right and has earned that opportunity to turn things around,” he said.

“Let’s be realists, the polls aren’t very good for us at the moment – but John Howard faced similar polling circumstances in 2001 and recovered.

“I’m optimistic and I’m confident we can turn things around. But at the end of the day, when people do the score sheet and they figure out what we’ve done well and what we’ve done badly, I’m think we’ll end up in the positives in 18 months’ time at the next federal election.”

Mr Chester said “we don’t need a new PM; we need to unite behind the one we’ve got”.

“The mood seemed to change in the last 72 hours when people contacting my office were saying, ‘ok the Liberal party has had its fun, they’ve given this bloke a whack, now give him a fair go’.

“And I think we need to give him a fair go – he’s earned the right to finish the job and now it’s up to his colleagues to unite behind him and I know I’ll be supporting him.”

Listen to the grass rootsLiberal Hume MP Angus Taylor said the 39-61 result of the spill motion vote in his party room on Monday sent two clear messages.

The first message was that the “vast majority” of the Liberal party room didn’t want to spill the leadership and second was that the PM and his office “need to listen to the grass roots”.

Mr Taylor said the vast majority of Liberal MPs were more interested in sending a signal that the government needs to adopt a new approach to governing as opposed to actually changing the leadership “and that message has been heard loud and clear”.

He said Mr Abbott immediately announced changes that are “more than symbolic” including the future method of policy formulation and engaging more with backbenchers.

“I think they are the right changes,” he said.

“My observation of the Prime Minister is that this has been a near-death experience and he’s really adapting to it and he does; that’s Tony’s history,” he said.

Mr Taylor rejected a suggestion Mr Abbott was on his last chance.

One of the key messages from the Prime Minister has been that the voters elect the Prime Minister and changing leaders, like the former Labor government did, would be political suicide.

Mr Taylor said politics had changed dramatically in recent years in Australia and throughout the world and losing touch with voters was the key issue

“I’ve been an observer and now a participant in politics and the truth of it is the grass roots are far more powerful now than they were years ago, because they’ve got megaphones,” he said.

“You have to really listen to what’s going on at the coal face – and of course in the parliament the coal face is represented by … backbenchers for the most part, because we are out in our electorates most of the time.”

Difficult weeksMr Abbott said he accepted the last few weeks have been difficult weeks for the government, “but they’ve also been difficult weeks for the Australian people because the people expect and deserve a government which is getting on with the job”.

“I am confident that we have put this time behind us,” he said.

I am confident that what we have shown the Australian people is that we have looked over the precipice and we have decided that we are not going to go down the Labor Party path of a damaged, divided, dysfunctional government which votes no confidence in itself.

“Our focus this year will be on jobs and families. It will be on a strong economy and a secure nation.

“We start in the next few months with the families’ package that I’ve been talking about with the small business and jobs package, which will focus on a tax cut for small business.

“This is what the Australian people want. They want a government which is focused on them, not on itself, and that’s what I am determined to deliver.”

Man overboardOpposition leader Bill Shorten said the spill was not just about leadership, but about the government’s values and budget being wrong.

“The Liberal Party of Australia need to stop worrying about which of their captains they throw overboard and just throw their unfair Budget overboard,” he said.

“It’s not about which Liberal is in charge of this mess, it’s about cutting pensions, it’s about a GP Tax, it’s about $100,000 degrees for university students.

“It’s broken promises and lies, it’s not the particular salesperson.”

Mr Shorten said the spill motion result indicated that 39 Liberals have decided “they’ve had enough of Tony Abbott”.

“The real question is, can Australia trust the Liberal Party?” he said.

“The Liberal Party are divided, that’s clear. They can’t govern themselves so how can they govern the nation?

“The real question here is, can anyone trust Tony Abbott or his team, who for a year and half have stolen 521 days of Australia’s time to waste it on an unfair Budget which is going nowhere fast.”

Get on with businessSA Liberal Senator Sean Edwards – who voted against the spill motion – said it was now time to get on with the business of governing the country and holding Labor to account for the nation’s budget position.

Senator Edwards said his party was now, “Looking forward to getting on with governing”.

“The Prime Minister has heard what his party room has had to say – it’s been a long hard road – but we will now do a better job at communicating policy and our achievements,” he said.

Senator Edwards said the government’s immediate task was to get back to work.

“I’ve just told my people it’s ‘business as usual’ and let’s get on with it now – we’ve got to drive reforms,” he said.

“The outcome (of the spill motion) is what it is.

“I wasn’t pleased it was occurring but that was my position.”

Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt said residents who contacted his Hinkler office last week were evenly divided in their views about whether Mr Abbott should remain Prime Minister.

“Some thought unfavourable poll results and recent decisions made by Mr Abbott had made his position untenable,” he said. Others indicated they didn’t want the Coalition to lower itself to Labor’s standards.

“The spill motion was defeated in the Liberal party room this morning, and now it’s time for the Coalition to get on with the job that voters elected us to do.

“As a member of The Nationals, I am focused on continuing to deliver outcomes for regional Australia.

“The Nationals remain a steadfast and united team; having had just 12 leaders in 95 years.

“Tony Abbott has said that the Coalition leadership team will be consultative; and Health Minister Sussan Ley’s visit to Hinkler last week to meet with local doctors was certainly a positive sign.”

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Co-op advantage clear: Simpson

A SHORT, sharp quip by Labor Senator Joe Bullock exemplified the passionate defence of CBH’s co-operative structure made by WAFarmers grains council president Kim Simpson at last week’s Senate inquiry hearing on grain logistics in Canberra.
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“I want to make it clear I have not seen Mr Simpson’s ‘I love CBH’ tattoo, but he is certainly a fan,” Senator Bullock told CBH officials.

During his opening statement, Mr Simpson launched an impassioned plea to federal Senators on the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee about the inherent value of CBH’s co-op structure to local growers.

“I was mortally insulted by your suggestion that farmers might not know whether they were gaining an advantage out of having a co-operative”But the Ballidu grain grower also took a swipe at the co-op’s most outspoken critics – the Pastoralists and Graziers’ Association (PGA) of Western Australia – and rejected an earlier suggestion during the hearing that younger growers favoured CBH corporatisation.

“My first comment is that I was mortally insulted by your suggestion that farmers might not know whether they were gaining an advantage out of having a co-operative,” he said.

“We do. We are very well aware of it. Even the younger farmers – going to one of your suggestions, Senator Heffernan – are aware of that.

“I suggest that they will not be selling their shares any time in the future.”

Committee chair and WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle urged Mr Simpson not to “take it personally”.

“I will not back down and you will not back down – but I did not set out to offend the growers,” Senator Sterle said.

“What I asked was whether the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) know that the growers are getting the best deal.

“Secondly, what I do know is that there has been some sort of turmoil in the board.

“I did clearly say that if the farmers were not happy I am sure we would hear about it, so do not take it personally.”

Mr Simpson told the hearing that CBH was a co-operative built by growers, paid for by growers and is run largely by growers, “And it does save us a lot of money”.

“If you compare the freight and handling costs in the west to the freight and handling costs here or in the east, you can see the difference,” he said.

“The difference is getting wider every single year, which is why CBH has the support, in my guess, of somewhere in the vicinity of 90 per cent of WA growers.

“It benefits us in two ways. One is the cost and the other is the fact that CBH maintains 190-odd receival points across WA.

“If CBH were to be sold off tomorrow, I would suggest that probably 90 of those would go. If CBH were sold off and those 100 receival points went, every single one of us that is currently near one of those points would have to turn around and buy a road train or contract people to cart grain.

“That is a cost that is rarely considered when these issues are covered.”

However, Mr Simpson said if a competitor entered the WA market and built storages up-country and offered its services to growers cheaper than CBH can provide “then growers will use it”.

He also agreed with NSW Senator Bill Heffernan’s clarification that “a little group” in WA wants to sell their CBH shares; namely the PGA.

But he said that “very small group” purports to represent growers but “I respectfully suggest that they do not”.

“It is the same as saying that someone who believes the world is flat represents scientists,” he said.

“If anyone represents growers in the West, it is us – particularly in respect of CBH”Mr Simpson said WAFarmers had 30 per cent of WA’s grain growers on its books which is, “nowhere near a majority” while suggesting the next nearest group (PGA) only had 5pc.

“If anyone represents growers in the West, it is us – particularly in respect of CBH,” he said.

“That same group that Senator Heffernan was talking about have talked about corporatising CBH.

“If a poll were taken tomorrow I would suggest that better than 90pc of growers would oppose that.”

CBH chief executive Dr Andy Crane also picked up on questioning about the PGA’s representation of WA growers, saying an issue of “mandate and motivation” was at play.

He said CBH surveyed a sub-set of its members quarterly which provides “reliable data”.

“We ask them particularly about the service that CBH is supplying when it comes to storage and handling, whether we are providing for their needs and whether they are still supportive of the co-operative,” he said.

“When we ask all those growers, ‘Which organisations are you members of?’ our data would say that 7pc of growers are members of PGA and 30pc are of WAFF, but most growers are members of CBH.

“When we analysed their interests, which is what we do – that is what we drive our organisation with – that is where we get the feedback.

“So I do think we are very representative in our views.”

Dr Crane said CBH’s current loyalty score was 88pc with growers.

“An allocation based on historic deliveries would be the model that probably would get up”PGA grains committee chair John Snooke told the inquiry it was a “fair statement” to say PGA favoured capitalisation and privatisation of CBH.

But Mr Snooke said what the PGA would always do firstly was respect CBH members but any change in structure would require 75pc shareholder approval.

He said a debate would determine how the capitalisation would be proportioned to each individual CBH shareholder.

Mr Snooke said a previous model used in the early 2000s – where 58pc of growers voted for a corporatised CBH – used a five-year history of grain deliveries to determine the potential allocation of shares to growers.

“So the more you delivered the more equity you had in the company,” he said.

Mr Snooke said the other argument was that each shareholder gets the same equity irrespective of deliveries.

But he said that model was unlikely to succeed up, “because the bigger growers probably would not be incentivised that way”.

“That is because some of the growers in WA just deliver massive tonnage,” he said.

“Therefore, if they were to get a million dollars, it may not incentivise them there.

“An allocation based on historic deliveries would be the model that probably would get up.”

Ms Snooke said PGA also had about 600 individual grain grower members but he was unsure of the actual number of businesses or actual percentage of the total WA crop.

He said a PGA submission for the ACCC’s investigation into Grain Express totalled 1.2 and 1.5 million tonnes for that particular year, of between 10 and 15pc.

“I could not put a percentage figure on it, but we are the smallest State farming organisation in the country, I believe,” he said.

“I defend our past record.

“We are an organisation based on the principles of the free market and minimal government intervention.

“I admit that is not for everyone, so we have a certain type of member.

“We want to put up good arguments in society.

“That is our goal.

“So we are never going to be the biggest in WA.”

Mr Snooke said CBH has only been successful because it was a legislated monopoly and WA growers had “no other choice” but to use it.

He said anyone who wanted to set up alternative infrastructure was blocked by the State government but that scenario had changed with the current Barnett government.

“They judge a project on its merits – that is a good thing.”

Mr Snooke also rejected suggestions CBH offered a cheaper service relative to the eastern states.

“We hear this all the time,” he said. “It is the PGA’s opinion – after a lot of research – that it is like comparing apples with oranges. It is a completely different geographic State.”

Mr Snooke said on the east coast market growers – situated a long distance from port – had a similar price per kilometre per tonne for grain to that of an average WA grower situated 200km from port.

“So we do not buy that argument,” he said.

“We do have a couple of members in the east who share information with the organisation.

“The biggest point I can make is that, if CBH is the cheapest, why is it that more and more people are choosing the Bunbury port every day and why are companies wanting to build new infrastructure in WA?

“They would not be doing that… if they could not offer growers a cheaper path to port.”

Senator Heffernan said CBH could one day be sold off and the co-op structure changed, creating “a huge private monopoly”.

“I have to say, having watched the SunRice expedition, that the caveat on all of this debate, for CBH, will be if eventually, when dad gives the farm to the sons and the shares to the daughter, they cash it in,” he said.

“In other words, put CBH on the market. It would dramatically alter the whole equation in Western Australia because it would be a huge private monopoly.”

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Farmland investment rules tightened

THE screening threshold on foreign purchases of Australian agricultural land will be reduced from $252 million to $15 million from March 1 to ” improve scrutiny” and a foreign ownership register of agricultural land is finally set to go ahead.
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In a joint press release, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Treasurer Joe Hockey said better scrutiny and reporting of foreign purchases of agricultural land were part of the Coalition’s commitment to the Australian people at the September 2013 election.

“The government will continue to welcome foreign investment, but the community must have confidence that this investment is coming in on our terms and for our nation’s benefit,” the statement said.

“We need to develop the architecture for successful and sustained agricultural investment”The new $15 million screening threshold will apply to the cumulative value of agricultural land owned by the foreign investor, including the purposed purchase.

A much-anticipated foreign ownership register of agricultural land will also be developed to provide a clearer picture of foreign investment levels in Australia’s agricultural sector.

From July 1 the Australian Tax Office (ATO) will start collecting information on all new foreign investment in agricultural land regardless of value, and will also commence a stocktake of existing agricultural land ownership by foreign interests. The ATO register will also use land title transfer information from State and Territory governments.

“These measures are a significant step in protecting Australia’s national interests and in giving the community greater confidence in our foreign investment regime,” the statement said.

Close, but no cigar: MilneGreens Leader Christine Milne said changes to foreign investment were a step in the right direction, but fell short of protecting Australia’s future food security.

“It’s critical we make sure that Australia’s agricultural land and water are seen as key national assets not to be sold off recklessly,” Senator Milne said.

“As global warming and extreme weather events disrupt food production worldwide, land grabbing and outsourcing food production by major importers of Australian food is undermining trade rules and threatening our food security.

“We need an outright ban on the sale of agricultural land and water licenses to wholly-owned subsidiaries of foreign governments, and we need a much more stringent national interest test.”

The Greens want to drastically reduce the threshold for the national interest test to $5 million, but said the new $15 million threshold was a start.

A statement released by the Labor today said while the Party supports moves to increase transparency in Australia’s foreign investment regime, lower thresholds on agricultural land would be a red-tape nightmare for potential investors.

The new rules “risk driving investors elsewhere at a time Australian agriculture is hungry for capital,” the statement said.

“It is inconceivable that Australia will be able to scale up production to expand our food exports and fully tap into the growing consumer markets of Asia without additional foreign investment.”

A social licenceForeign direct investment (FDI) needs “a social licence and a sense of mutual interest” to be beneficial to Australian agriculture, National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) chief executive Simon Talbot said last week.

NFF president Brent Finlay said today’s announcement of the register was a welcome next step in progressing NFF’s policy agenda.

“Foreign investment in Australian agriculture is welcome; it is essential for our continued growth and future prosperity. We are open for business,” Mr Finlay said.

“However, proper scrutiny of investment proposals and a transparent register form the necessary architecture for successful and sustained investment, and ensure that investment is in Australia’s best interest.”

Mr Finlay said there were still some key issues to iron out – such as foreign investment in infrastructure, agricultural supply chains and water.

“We want to see foreign investment that serves Australian interests, and we commend the government on taking this step forward.”

“Foreign investment has brought definite benefits to Australian agriculture”The government is also now considering the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee inquiry led by MP Kelly O’Dwyer regarding foreign investment in residential real estate and will announce details of these reforms in coming weeks.

A survey commissioned by ­accounting firm Bentleys and conducted by Empirica Research last August found 60 per cent of ­farmers still believe there should be less foreign investment in Australian farms.

While tougher FDI regulations are popular with the public, the NFF has cautioned the government will need to find “the right formula” to make the proposed system work.

“The government must ensure the ATO is properly resourced to deliver the long-promised register,” Mr Finlay said.

“While work will commence in July to collect information, a clear timeframe for when this information will be publicly accessible is a must.”

Last year Mr Joyce rejected accusations he had undergone a political metamorphosis on foreign direct investment (FDI) since being appointed Agriculture Minister in the Abbott cabinet.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said he welcomed Mr Joyce’s new-found support of foreign investment, but said it was in “very stark contrast” to the New England MP’s mantra when he was in the Senate representing the Queensland LNP.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he didn’t believe Mr Joyce was being xenophobic in venting opposition to foreign investments like Cubbie Station or the potential sale of GrainCorp to US multinational Archer Daniels Midland. But he does believe his political counterpart’s views on the issue are “populist”.

“I think Barnaby Joyce senses people in rural Australia are sensitive about foreign ownership of agricultural land and in the past he’s chosen to take political capital from those concerns,” he said.

Register a long time comingThe agricultural sector has been waiting on an FDI register for some time. After establishing a departmental working group on FDI in June 2012, the Labor government announced in October 2012 it would implement a national foreign ownership register “to improve transparency of foreign ownership in agricultural land without imposing unnecessary burdens on investors”, and the Coalition reiterated this promise at the September 2013 federal election.

The register was also recommended in a Senate report tabled in June 2013, which said foreign investment was encouraged in Australian agriculture.

Mr Joyce has repeatedly defended delays in the register’s implementation. He was quick to reassure critics in June 2014 that development of a foreign ownership register for agricultural land was still on the agenda, saying the Department of Agriculture was working on the information technology and reporting framework that could underpin the register.

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Goodman Fielder profits flat

GOODMAN Fielder has reiterated its support for a $1.3 billion offer from Wilmar International and First Pacific after delivering a flat first-half profit result, with underlying net profit slipping 1 per cent to $29.7 million as cheaper milk and wheat costs countered falling prices in bread and spreads.
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While sales from continuing operations fell 5.8 per cent to $1066.4 billion, earnings before interest and tax were unchanged at $77.3 million and EBIT was up 5 per cent after taking into account recent asset sales.

The result fell short of market expectations. Analysts had forecast an underlying net profit of $34.3 million and earnings before interest and tax of $80.8 million on sales of $1.09 billion.

However, the 5 per cent rise in underlying EBIT suggests that chief executive Chris Delaney’s turnaround plan is finally starting to gain traction.

While earnings fell 54 per cent in baking and 13 per cent in grocery products, EBIT from the New Zealand dairy operations soared 74 per cent and Asia Pacific profits rose 12 per cent.

The result will allay fears that a renewed outbreak of discounting in bread could jeopardise the $1.3 billion offer from Singapore oils processor Wilmar and Hong Kong investment company First Pacific.

Under a material adverse change clause in Wilmar and First Pacific’s 67.5¢ a share offer, the joint bidders have the right to walk away if Goodman Fielder’s recurring earnings before interest and tax fall $30 million this year or the value of net assets falls by $100 million.

Goodman said an independent expert had reviewed the first half results and continued to believe that the scheme of arrangement with Wilmar and First Pacific was in the best interests of shareholders. A scheme meeting will be held on February 26.

As expected, Goodman withheld paying an interim dividend.

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Back tables anti-trespass Bill

Senator Chris Back.SENATOR Chris Back has tabled his private Senator’s Bill, which aims to curtail escalating trespass by animal rights activists on livestock facilities.
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The Western Australian Liberal Senator flagged the new laws last year in response to ongoing trespass and campaigning by activists gathering video footage aimed at emotively influencing consumer opinion and laws, against intensive livestock farming.

He said the Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 was tabled on Wednesday and is aimed at reducing “malicious cruelty to animals” while also making provision to protect lawfully operating animal enterprises.

“This Bill will give people the incentive to report the cruelty without delay”The Bill proposes to impose a five-year imprisonment penalty as punishment for an offence which results in economic damage exceeding $10,000.

An offence which results in substantial bodily injury or economic damage exceeding $100,000 will carry a 10-year imprisonment penalty, and an offence which results in serious bodily injury or economic damage exceeding $1 million will carry 20 years imprisonment.

Life imprisonment is also proposed for an offence which results in the death of any individual.

In a statement, Senator Back said his Bill was an amendment to the Criminal Code which contained two parts.

He said firstly it addressed the reporting of malicious cruelty to animals and secondly it dealt with illegal interference in the conduct of lawful animal enterprises.

“The first division of the Bill stipulates that if a person takes visual images of what they believe to be malicious cruelty to animals, they must report this to the responsible authority without delay,” he said.

“Authorities are then empowered to investigate, to act swiftly ensuring further cruelty is averted and to prosecute the perpetrators if proven.”

Senator Back said his decision to introduce the Bill follows recent examples of activist groups who present visual images – taken sometimes up to 12 months prior to disclosure – effectively preventing the responsible authorities from accurately investigating animal cruelty allegations in a timely manner.

“As a veterinarian, I am as appalled as anyone else in the community when animals are subject to malicious cruelty,” he said.

“This Bill will give people the incentive to report the cruelty without delay in order for the authorities to investigate and end the cruelty immediately.”

Senator Back said the Bill did not “censor or restrict the media, media coverage or any person in any way”.

“As a veterinarian, I am as appalled as anyone else in the community when animals are subject to malicious cruelty”He said the second division of the Bill was directed at anyone who intimidates, threatens or attacks a person or people associated with operating a lawful animal enterprise. It also prohibits trespassing onto or vandalism of such enterprises.

“Such actions are criminal in nature, invade the privacy of affected persons and can place animals at risk from a welfare, biosecurity, health and safety point of view,” he said.

Senator Back said the motives of many animal activists are clear by their own published statements.

He said they want to see the end of Australia’s livestock industries with many opposing any form of animal production and wanting to drastically reduce meat consumption.

“In so doing, they are directly attacking Australia’s international reputation, export trade and the profitability of agricultural and rural communities generally,” he said.

Senator Back told Fairfax Agricultural Media he’d received strong support for the basic intent of his Bill from groups connected to the agricultural sector.

He said he now intended to consult more widely – including with the RSPCA and federal crossbench Senators – given the legislation had been tabled.

Senator Back said he’d already been “attacked” by Greens animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon over the proposal.

Senator Rhiannon has accused Senator Back of trying to introduce US-styled “ag gag” laws which he has vehemently rejected.

In an interview with ABC radio last December, after Senator Back declared his proposal would formally advance in the new year with support from his party room, Senator Rhiannon criticised the move.

She said the majority of farmers do the right thing and they “love and they care for their animals”.

But she said, “There’s still a role for undercover investigators to expose animal cruelty, and that’s what Senator Back is attempting to shut down”.

“If you look into what Senator Back is saying, he also talks about how the actions are criminal in nature, he talks about invading the privacy of affected people on the farm, and it’s certainly not doing anything to protect the role of whistleblowers,” she said.

Senator Back has previously said he’s been falsely quoted in “every second newspaper around the countryside” as trying to introduce US-style “ag gag” laws.

But he said his proposal represented the exact opposite of those laws because it aimed to strengthen genuine animal welfare protections and safeguards for farmers.

The Bill’s explanatory memorandum says, it uses “the least rights restrictive approach in that it does not censor or restrict media coverage”.

“It does not require material to be approved before it may be published,” it says.

“It does not restrict the ability of journalists to protect their sources. The Bill is not designed to censor the media or any other person in any way. Nor is it designed to allow the relevant authorities to censor the media or any other person in any way.”

The Bill also defines the meaning of malicious cruelty to animals.

It says, “A person engages in malicious cruelty to animals if the person engages in an unlawful activity for the purpose of inflicting unnecessary pain, injury or death upon domestic animals”.

It also stipulates that humane slaughter for the purposes of food production, or for compassionate reasons, “is not malicious cruelty to animals”.

The Bill also defines an animal enterprise as a commercial or academic enterprise that uses, sells, houses or stores animals or animal products for: profit; food; fibre production; agriculture; education; research; testing.

Other animal enterprises include: a zoo, aquarium, animal shelter, pet shop, breeder, furrier, circus; a rodeo or other lawful competitive animal event; and any show or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has also vowed to support regulations that also prevent animal rights activists trespassing on farms and livestock facilities to gather video footage to use against industry.

He’s described those activists as “vigilantes” who are creating biosecurity risks by taking the law into their own hands.

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Case IH hits the road for power tour

The Magnum CVT Rowtrac 380 tractor will be one of the features on the Case IH Red Power Tour in Australia.THROUGHOUT February and March, Case IH will be showcasing its range of new products and models at regional centres across the nation in its inaugural Case IH Red Power Tour in Australia.
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The company will be driving 12 new models across Australia on the back of three Iveco trucks, stopping at five locations on the way.

The roadshow visits are at:

•Perth, WA – Wednesday, February 11

•Kadina, SA – Thursday, February 12

•Mildura, Vic – Thursday, February 26

•Dubbo, NSW – Thursday, March 5

•Rockhampton, Qld – Friday, March 13

Case IH high horsepower product manager Pete McCann said it was a great opportunity for locals to see the new machines and the newest features for themselves.

“In the past, our customers have sometimes had to travel long distances to be able to test out the machines they’re interested in, it made more sense to take the machinery to them,” he said.

“We’ve just released the Magnum Rowtrac, a new tractor for row crop farming. It offers better flotation, manoeuvring and flexibility – it’s truly an industry leader, and the roadshow will give people the chance to test-drive it along with the Magnum wheeled tractor to easily compare the two.”

Other machines on show will be the new model mid-range Magnum, the Maxxum CVT, the Farmall C and Advanced Farming Systems (AFS).

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Timber port ‘now inevitable’

The Company’s newest directors – Graham Holdaway, of Buninyong, Victoria, and Shauna Black, of Kingscote, Kangaroo Island – joined chairman Paul McKenzie, managing director John Sergeant and company secretary Vicky Allinson on an inspection of the Company’s assets.Timber port ‘now inevitable’
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The directors of Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers (KIPT) believe the construction of a deep-water port to ship harvested pine and bluegum from Kangaroo Island is now inevitable.

After its annual general meeting in Adelaide on September 8, the Company’s directors spent two days on Kangaroo Island, as they continue to work on securing a port and a route to market for the plantation timber on the island.

The Company’s newest directors – Graham Holdaway, of Buninyong, Victoria, and Shauna Black, of Kingscote, Kangaroo Island – joined chairman Paul McKenzie, managing director John Sergeant and company secretary Vicky Allinson on an inspection of the Company’s assets. These include 2700 hectares of pine plantations, 2300 hectares of bluegums, the Timber Creek mill, a potential port site at Smith Bay and other land. The standing timber translates to 807,000 cubic metres of pine and 403,000 cubic metres of blue gum.

Mr McKenzie said the directors were pleased that the Commissioner for Kangaroo Island Wendy Campana had accepted their invitation to visit some of the sites and hear more about forestry on Kangaroo Island.

The Company’s newest directors – Graham Holdaway, of Buninyong, Victoria, and Shauna Black, of Kingscote, Kangaroo Island – joined chairman Paul McKenzie, managing director John Sergeant and company secretary Vicky Allinson on an inspection of the Company’s assets.

“The Board is determined to monetize the Company’s land and timber assets, by developing them into a sustainable timber-growing and exporting business,” Mr McKenzie said.

“Also, KIPT is keen to work with the other major timber owner on Kangaroo Island towards a port solution, which we believe is now inevitable.

“For a variety of reasons we believe that the site at Smith Bay, owned by our Company, is the best place for a deep-water port but we are happy to consider other sites.

“We have two priorities regarding the port. First, we are calling for a transparent process in the analysis and consideration of a new port site by the State Government.

“Second, we want fair access (including fair pricing) to any port facilities which are developed, not just for us but for other commodity exports and imports, such as grain or fuel,” Mr McKenzie said. “That will be the best solution for Kangaroo Island.”

Commissioner Wendy Campana said the recent visit had been a good opportunity for her to learn more.

“Plantation forestry has the potential to be an important ongoing industry for Kangaroo Island, providing employment and boosting economic activity. Residents have waited for many years to see the benefits from the timber industry and now, with a port in sight, there is every reason to believe those benefits will be realised,” Ms Campana said.

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The Company’s newest directors – Graham Holdaway, of Buninyong, Victoria, and Shauna Black, of Kingscote, Kangaroo Island – joined chairman Paul McKenzie, managing director John Sergeant and company secretary Vicky Allinson on an inspection of the Company’s assets.

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JBS call angers stakeholders

THE Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been branded as out of touch and badly in need of a skilled agribusiness unit after contentiously approving the $1.45 billion takeover of smallgoods processor Primo by meat giant JBS.
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Late last week the authority cleared one of the two main approval hurdles to Brazilian-owned JBS’s takeover of the big smallgoods company, despite receiving farm sector criticism of the deal’s potential to reduce meat sector competition.

However, in a warning shot fired across JBS’s bows, the competition watchdog conceded it was wary about a consolidating abattoir industry trend in Australia.

JBS has acquired 11 meatworks in five States since 2007.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims drew immediate fire from Nationals MPs, including Senator John Williams who said he was confused to find the commission approving the sale, “yet in the next breath says it is wary of the potential impact of the further consolidation of abattoirs”.

“If that is true, why didn’t it act in this instance?” he asked.

“This decision has been met with dismay by farmers and the livestock industry.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Rod Sims – he’s a smart bloke – but his outfit has totally missed the mark on this one.

“They don’t understand how the livestock auction system works – fewer buyers means lower prices and those saleyard prices also set the value of stock sold on consignment from the paddock to the meatworks.”

He said the “disgraceful” ACCC decision sparked a groundswell of anxious activity within Coalition government ranks, with MPs hoping the Foreign Investment Review Board would better understand the situation.

“We really need an expert rural unit working within the ACCC, staffed with people experienced in rural issues”NSW Farmers cattle committee chairman Derek Schoen said his dealings with the ACCC confirmed its staff “had a very poor understanding of agricultural markets and related activities”.

He had personally assisted commission staff examining the Primo sale and while disappointed with its verdict, he was not surprised.

“It was very clear they don’t have any real expertise in agricultural matters – they had no idea of how livestock saleyards operated,” he said after taking ACCC staff to a Wagga Wagga cattle sale.

“We really need an expert rural unit working within the ACCC, staffed with people experienced in rural issues.

“Agribusiness is a complex, multi-faceted industry, but the ACCC seems to think it must treat every takeover case in isolation without thinking of the cumulative impact on producers or other competitors in the supply chain.

“Producers are very worried they’ll wake up in 10 years to find we have a meat processing industry controlled by just two or three giant players.”

His assessments of the ACCC’s rural market competency echo concerns expressed during the blocked 2013 GrainCorp takeover bid by global grain processing force Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

ACCC representatives facing a Senate inquiry on grain handling were grilled for approving the sale while admitting limited understanding of the grain trade or processes involved.

Last week Mr Sims accepted there was unease in the meat industry, saying the ACCC would monitor the processing sector “and any future acquisitions will face additional scrutiny”.

He argued the competitive impact on meat customers, smallgoods customers or the provision of prime cattle service kills was studied but no significant competition concerns arose.

“I really don’t think the ACCC has been looking at the bigger picture”NSW Central West selling agent Ross Plasto said he has “nothing against JBS, but they’re taking another bidder out of our market”.

Mr Plasto from Plasto and Company at Wellington said NSW, in particular, had felt the pinch caused by a steady decline in abattoirs operators, especially in the beef sector.

“I really don’t think the ACCC has been looking at the bigger picture,” he said.

“Primo has been a major supporter of Dubbo sales, but increasingly it seems like our (eastern Australian) marketplace is becoming a JBS versus Teys-Cargill situation.

“It’s a lot like the Coles and Woolworths story all over again.”

Although market demand for red meat, particularly from exporters was strengthening and offering opportunities for new processors, Mr Plasto said new meatworks were expensive to build and operate, which limited the attraction to potential new industry players.

Adding to the problem, according to NSW Farmers cattle committee chairman Derek Shoen, “Killeneen”, Corowa, was a tendency for existing meatworks to be locked into only handling stock for specific exporters or big supermarkets.

This left even even fewer options for farmers or local marketers wanting stock processed as contract kills.

But north eastern Victorian agent, Michael Curtis said despite the frustrating consolidation trend led by JBS, quite a few smaller meatworks continued to service southern Australia, and some had invested big sums in expanding operations.

“We’ve had a few cases where clients have been caught out as abattoirs have changed ownership or closed, but there’s been quite a bit of extra export processing activity in the beef market of late, and that means they need more cattle,” he said.

“Thomas Foods International at Murray Bridge (South Australia) has gone from handling 5000 cattle a week to 7000.

“Once these abattoirs are geared up their operators need to keep them working at maximum capacity, so they’ll look for stock across a wider area.”

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Coalition ‘back from the cliff’: Chester

Nationals MP Darren Chester.VICTORIAN Nationals MP Darren Chester says the Coalition came “dangerously close” to being “just like Labor” with this week’s leadership spill motion.
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A relieved Mr Chester said he congratulated the Liberal party room for “pulling back from the edge of the cliff and for showing that cooler heads prevailed”, by voting down the spill motion 61 to 39 votes on Monday morning.

“I don’t think the Australian people actually voted for us with a great deal of love and affection,” he said of the 2013 federal election result.

“They voted for us because they hated Labor’s chaos and dysfunction. So we need to keep that in mind.

“We’re on probation with the Australian people, and if we go down that path of fighting among ourselves like the Labor party did, we will be very harshly judged at the next election.”

One of the major conundrums facing the Coalition is whether to remove a first-term Prime Minister and suffer a fate similar to the one it vehemently criticised Labor for during the previous Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, for causing national instability.

But the conundrum within a conundrum for the National Party is that they don’t get to vote on the Liberal Party’s leadership despite suffering the potential political damage from such a decision.

Last week, National party leader Warren Truss stated repeatedly that the Coalition agreement was between him and Mr Abbott and any Liberal leadership change would require its re-negotiation.

But with an expectation of continued poor returns in voter polling, disgruntled Liberals appear set to maintain a campaign against Mr Abbott, possibly to replace him with the more palatable and popular Malcolm Turnbull.

But the Communications Minister remains unpopular with the Nationals due to his past views on carbon trading policy and previous disregard for potential impacts on farmers.

In contrast to the Liberals, Mr Chester said the National Party leadership wasn’t an issue of serious conjecture and “doesn’t even come up in discussion; either publicly or privately”.

“We have a strong, united team,” he said. “The love and respect for Warren Truss is very genuine in our party room.

“When he was ill last year a lot of people were speculating about his future but we were hoping he’d get better.

“Some of the Canberra insiders were already burying him, but we were cheering him on and making sure he got better and got back to full health.

“Warren has the 100 per cent support of the party room and will be leader of the Nationals for as long as he wants to be leader.”

Hume Liberal MP Angus Taylor said while 61 Liberals voted against the spill motion, the National Party’s support – with its 15 MPs and six Senators – was also an important consideration.

Mr Taylor said there was “no question” about Mr Abbott’s ability to build and manage the Liberal party’s relationship with the Nationals, “and that’s been a big plus for us”.

“There’s been very little tension in the Coalition,” he said.

“I know my personal relationships with the Nationals are very, very strong and we’ve got very effective working relationships.

“It is true Tony has been very good at that and I’m acutely conscious of that and we need to maintain it.”

Mr Taylor said it was also “understandable” that the Nationals had strategically distanced themselves from Liberal infighting over leadership in recent weeks.

“It has been a Liberal Party issue,” he said.

“But I think the Nationals’ concern quite rightly is they want a strong and effective Coalition where they have a voice and they are also able to exercise influence and they have been very supportive of Tony’s leadership.”

However, Mr Taylor – who voted against the spill motion – said he didn’t expect to be dealing with another leadership ballot any time soon.

He said Mr Abbott had a “near death experience” politically and would heed the associated lessons and make necessary changes, such as improved backbench consultations.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Labor had learnt its lesson and had new leadership rules which would prevent it from repeating the “circus that we saw from the Liberals”.

“The Liberal Party has broken so many promises since they came to office,” he said.

“Politics isn’t that hard in Australia, it’s about a covenant of trust between the voters and the people they vote for and the Abbott government, all of them, have smashed it with their broken promises and lies.

“Perhaps the biggest broken promise of all was that they said 521 days ago they would be a government of adults, they would be stable, they would be sensible.

“Well that is clearly not the case.”

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Wool ‘on a good run’

THE Eastern Market Wool Indicator rose above the elusive 1100 cents a kilogram mark for the first time in 12 months last week, and there’s more good news for woolgrowers with industry commentators tipping the market will remain firm to lift slightly in coming weeks.
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Independent wool consultant, Andrew Dennis, Adelaide, South Australia, said the wool markets had had a good run for the last couple of weeks – something he expected would continue at least in the short term.

He said finally the Australian dollar’s downward movement was playing into the hand of growers.

“There is better demand from China at the moment which we haven’t had for 12 months, there are more positives than negatives for the wool market at the moment,” Mr Dennis said.

He said traditionally China buyers were after 19.5 to 22 micron wool, but they were now buying more fine wool types.

“As well as always being strong on crossbreds and cardings, China buyers are starting to broaden their outlook to the fine and superfine end of the market, which is long overdue for some people.”

Mr Dennis predicted the market would go up at little, but nothing as extreme as 200c/kg.

“It’s the wrong time of year for that as we are well into the second half of the processing season. There is probably a little but more upside in the market but not a huge amount,” he said.

Mr Dennis said there was also more wool coming off hold and hitting the auction room.

“A fair few growers are trying to take advantage of the spike in prices, which is normal, but that always tests the market when we get an oversupply. But it seems to be normal cycle for the wool industry,” he said.

In terms of wool production, Mr Dennis doubted it be lower than last year.

“However, there are still a fair few sheep getting their heads cut off, so I don’t think production is going to increase markedly either.

“But sheep certainly look more attractive with current meat and wool prices then they used to.”

Auctions Plus and Wooltrade market operations manager, Tony Benson, Sydney, NSW, also anticipated the market would remain firm this week.

“We are seeing an increase of fresh wool hitting the market at the moment, and week-on-week we had 900 bales more last week,” he said.

“It’s good marketing by growers to take the opportunity to sell while the markets spiked rather than store it.”

At the West Wyalong Merino breeders sheep sale in NSW last week Landmark selling agent, Will Dean, West Wyalong, said restockers were steering around the shorn ewes and opting to pay $10 to $15 a head more for young woolly ewes, as the rebate of $20 to $30 of wool off them straight made it worth paying a premium.

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