16/06/2011 - 00:00

Broader agenda to ‘no live trade’ cattle call

16/06/2011 - 00:00


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The northern cattle industry has been hit hard by the suspension of the cattle trade with Indonesia.

Broader agenda to ‘no live trade’ cattle call

PASTORALISTS ought to be protected, not rejected.

I wrote an online comment piece last week about the rush of concern for Australian-bred livestock when we casually allow imported predators like cats to destroy our native wildlife, often with tortured deaths that make a rogue Indonesian slaughterhouse look humane.

While the language was partly in jest, I was deadly serious about cats in my piece http://www.wabusinessnews.com.au/en-story.php?/1/89477/Time-to-stop-slaughter-in-our-backyard.

I find it absurd that we prevent native animals being exported and, more ridiculously, being kept as pets yet we allow killers such as cats and increasingly dangerous dogs to be imported and bred here. Native animals have no protection against these predators.

Furthermore, these animals – especially dogs – can go feral and become dangerous to livestock, which also have no defences, and even, potentially, humans.

From what I hear, pastoralists are fighting a losing battle against wild dogs throughout the Mid West and other parts of Western Australia’s interior because of changes in that industry and government policy.

Pastoralists who run sheep in our outback are, I hear, finding that national parks and former commercial leases now controlled by the state or mining companies are becoming safe havens for wild dogs that then roam active leases to maul the livestock.

The government, which is partly to blame for this by increasing the areas that are no longer managed by pastoralists, seems to care little for this problem.

But what about animal rights activists and authorities like the RSPCA, which are campaigning against live animal exports?

It is difficult to find obvious support from these quarters for pastoralists who are fighting a losing battle against feral animals, which terrorise and kill defenceless sheep. Forget about the boat trip to Egypt, our lambs want to survive past their first outback spring.

Live and let live

A FURTHER contradiction I’ve found in the conservationists’ push to end live exports is how they refer to the economic opportunity in this policy for domestic abattoirs, which could export chilled or frozen meat to markets like Indonesia.

The irony is that live export is the only way to get fresh meat to these locations because of the lack of infrastructure in poorer countries, such as our neighbour to the north.

How can any conservationist worth his or her salt consider this alternative when CO2 production represents the greatest moral challenge of our lifetimes – or at least that was the language two years ago when then prime minister Kevin Rudd was crusading on the climate change issue?

While live export does consume some energy in terms of fuel and emits greenhouses gases in the form of methane, it is hard to imagine the ‘food miles’ or CO2 ‘hoof-print’ involved would be more than that created if the cattle were slaughtered and then exported frozen to Indonesia or elsewhere.

Think of the CO2 production required to keep a cow below zero, rather than what occurs when the animal is alive. Anyway, the point is moot because many places in Indonesia simply don’t have the capacity to store processed meat – unless they develop infrastructure and, heaven forbid, use electricity.

For those conservationists who want us all to go back to some form of subsistence living – so often highlighting the small footprint of primitive ‘jungle people’ – places like Indonesia would have to undergo the opposite, a very rapid form of industrialisation, to attain the ability to receive frozen meat.

Or is the ultimate aim to deny developing nations access to meat, an important form of protein for humans, especially growing children?

Let’s face it, the economic argument about doing more processing here is flagged by conservationists in this field just to make themselves sound rational. Inevitably, in my view, those opposed to the live meat trade appear really to be opposed to all meat production.

How many cars with stickers demanding an end to live export, think ‘Baa Baa Barbaric’, also sport the message, “Meat is Murder”. A fair few, I’ll think you’ll find.

The anti-meat brigade has deftly used the broadcast media to deliver a terrible – maybe fatal – blow to the northern cattle industry but, in doing so, is exposing itself as unable to find real solutions to the problems uncovered.

As I stated online last week, it is appropriate to stop live cattle exports to Indonesia temporarily while the federal government sorts out this mess, but a few weeks is all that should be needed to get a taskforce in place.

It is wrong to destroy an industry over a solvable problem, unless the destruction of that industry is the ultimate aim.

Carbon tax

I HAVE not read the entire Productivity Commission’s review of carbon tax and carbon abatement in leading economies, but the news and views expressed about it seem to show it is the first time a truly objective view has been taken on this subject by a major adviser to the federal government.

Unlike Ross Garnaut’s partisan view, from what I’ve read the commission’s assessment appears to suggest that we are by no means trailing the world when it comes to tackling climate change. We’ve simply been smarter or, in some cases, less stupid.

The key point is that, thankfully, we have not (yet) put too much emphasis on providing distorting incentives for renewable energy, which are creating more economic pain than they need to in places such as Germany.

Nevertheless, from what I’ve read, the commission’s work shows that a modest carbon tax – $9/tonne – would provide a better result than existing renewable energy schemes, which are actually costing more than $40/t to deliver the same outcome.

No matter what your view on climate change, or the fact that Prime Minister Julia Gillard reneged on her pre-election pledge to not introduce a carbon tax, the commission’s report seems to make it difficult to ignore this policy direction.

It is possible that a very modest carbon tax would simply be a direct mechanism for reducing our energy consumption, just as a fuel tax has long encouraged Australians to invest in smaller or more fuel efficient cars than people in the US.

In doing our fair share – in the words of Professor Garnaut – there also appears to be scope to exclude critical industries, just as many other ‘greener’ nations have done.

While we wait for further evidence that our climate is changing more rapidly than nature intended, or that there is anything we can do about it, I am not opposed to measures that make us more efficient users of energy – a much better goal than keeping up with the Joneses of climate change alarmism, who have clearly made some costly mistakes with their policies thus far.

In my view, by staking her prime ministership on a reversal of the carbon tax policy she took to the election, Ms Gillard has made sensible policy in this area harder to sell. The government, for instance, wants to use much of the tax raised to ensure people who might vote for it don’t feel any financial pain. Such policy is not just wrong, but ultimately it won’t work.

The Productivity Commission report offers her a lifeline, appealing to those who are willing to sacrifice a little in a precautionary act – so long as the government jettisons more expensive policies as part of the package.

Ms Gillard won’t get my vote, but at least we have seen something more enlightened from those who advise her – which gives me a little more faith in the outcome.

• mark.pownall@wabn.com.au


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