Monday, January 18, 2016

Opening up Australia's empty North to settlement and farming

Another revival of an old and unrealistic dream. It fits in with the frequent Greenie cries that the world is overpopulated and about to run out of food. The latest such cry here.  It is true that vast tracts of Northern Australia are mostly unpopulated and used for very little.  And Chinese farmers in the gold-rush days of the 19th century proved that productive farms could be set up there even using very low-tech.  So turning an area about the size of Western Europe into farms seems an obvious thing to do. 

And from Adolf Hitler on, Greenies have been shrieking that we are about to run out of food.  So if that had any realism to it, opening up Northern Australia to arable farming  would indeed be an obvious thing to do.

The fact that everyone overlooks is that the international supply of most farm products is in GLUT.  We have too much food available for international trade, not too little.  So if you do convert more of our mostly empty North into farms, how are you going to sell the product? 

The Ord river scheme in North-West Australia was a warning for those who are capable of learning.  There's this huge river and lots of uncultivated fertile land nearby so governments of all sorts have thought to turn it into a resource.   Since the 1940s, it has absorbed many millions of taxpayer dollars. And it's only recently that they have found something worth growing there:  Sandalwood, used to make incense sticks for Chinese religious ceremonies!  No food!

And now that China has become a major food exporter, almost any farm investment would be blind optimism.  China now makes not only most of our electrical goods but also most of those low-priced "Own brand" cans of food in your local supermarket. The abundance that worldwide capitalism produces is in the end what will keep Australias's vast North mostly empty.  Greenie shrieks about overpopulation are a laugh to anyone who knows anything about the subject

A record-breaking drought in the state of Queensland has reignited calls to unlock the economic potential of Australia's under-developed and sparsely populated north.

As those on the land struggle, business leaders are promoting the idea that the region could be transformed into a giant food bowl for Asia.

What's needed, according to Troy Popham, the head of the Townsville Chamber of Commerce, is the vision to create a large network of new reservoirs and pipelines to help a thirsty country cope with prolonged dry spells.

"The rain across northern Australia can be captured and can be channelled to relevant places so that the downstream effects of the water can still be utilised," he says.

"It is going to cost some money, but the rewards that it will deliver to the country are enormous."

Bold irrigation schemes, a 600m Australian dollar ($418m; £290m) upgrade to outback roads, extra money to revamp airstrips, and funds to explore rail freight links are part of a federal government discussion paper released last June.

"No longer will Northern Australia be seen as the last frontier: it is in fact, the next frontier," proclaimed a statement from the governing Liberal Party.

Development challenge

The region, to the north of the Tropic of Capricorn, covers more ground than many countries, and spans Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

It is flush with potential; from agriculture and renewable energy, to tourism, education and tropical medicine.

Crucially, for policy makers it is on the doorstep of emerging markets in Asia.

But the dreams of exploiting the untapped riches of the north that go back almost as far as European settlement in the late 18th Century have remained unfulfilled.

Colonial explorers dragged boats into the mysterious interior hoping to find an inland sea, but discovered only desert and disappointment. Over the years, other lofty ambitions have also turned to dust.

While Canberra's ambition to eventually light up the north is praised by industry groups and farmers, there is - because of the area's sheer scale - caution.

"It is a great principle, but it can end up being useless rhetoric if the government is not willing to drive this investment," says Queensland state MP Robbie Katter, from his offices in the mining city of Mount Isa in the rugged Gulf Country region.

"What many people have in mind is that it would be corporate-style farming with foreign owners or institutional investors that do a big irrigation scheme.

"That benefits a few and really doesn't help solve any of the problems for the established farmers out here."

The cost of upgrading key freight routes would be huge, and take years, but would be worth the time and money, argues Andrew Gray, chairman of Northern Territory Livestock Exporters Association.

"The pastoral industry has been crippled by poor roads," he says.   "We have heavy rain during our wet season. Roads become impassable for passenger vehicles, let alone for the transport of livestock."


Surprise!  Man named Mohammad is a naughty boy

NOTORIOUS crime gang member Mohammad Qais Niazy will be sent back to Afghanistan after his online taunts to police and alleged criminal activity finally caught up with him.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton signed off on the cancellation of Niazy’s permanent residency because of his alleged involvement in criminal activity, with Niazy expected to be deported once his current legal matters are finalised.

Mr Dutton said Niazy did not meet the character requirements for a residency.

Police sources said Niazy’s deportation would likely cause the early demise of a newly-formed gang, which included several members who spent the majority of last year in jail.

Niazy is in custody awaiting trial in the Parramatta District Court on charges including possessing a shortened firearm, unregistered firearm and prohibited weapon.

It is understood he will be immediately deported if he is acquitted or after the completion of any further jail time.

Niazy, an alleged core member of the ­Afghani Murderers gang, has previously used Facebook to regularly taunt police, posting pictures of large piles of cash and himself sniffing a white powder.

He posted several photos in the months before his jailing last year, including a photo spelling out the words “f ... all cops” in $100 notes.

Also known as Ace Niazy and Ali Gewad, Niazy was arrested by Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad (MEOCS) officers last year. On Facebook, Niazy had previously taken aim at MEOCS and other agencies.


Australian Greens ally themselves with thug unions

Greens leader Richard Di Natale and his colleagues have vigorously opposed federal Coalition policies to impose criminal sanctions on corrupt union and employer officials.

Unions are moving to widen their political influence before this year's federal election by pouring cash into the Greens, a strategy that is infuriating Labor and sparking accusations of disloyalty against union officials who are formally aligned with the ALP.

The unions have already given the Greens more than $600,000 and are tipped to go further this year, just as the minor party tries to defeat Labor candidates in marginal electorates that will be -crucial to Bill Shorten's campaign.

As the nation's biggest construction union comes under fire from the royal commission into union corruption, it and others have increased their donations to the Greens in a way that expands a powerful political alliance that challenges Labor.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale and his colleagues have vigorously opposed federal Coalition policies to impose criminal sanctions on corrupt union and employer officials, restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission and scale back the proportion of union representatives on superannuation fund boards.

There are divisions within the union movement over the donations, given that the construction division of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union handed $125,000 to the Greens last year while the same union's mining division lashed out at Green policies to scale back coalmining.

Anger at the trend is greatest among senior Labor figures who are frustrated that the CFMEU can use its numbers within the party to influence the selection of Labor candidates but then use its cash to help the Greens field rival candidates for the same seats.

The CFMEU is the second biggest union supporter of the Greens after the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union, which gave $360,000 to the Greens in the year to June 2014, the last year for which figures are available. Total union donations to the Greens reached almost $600,000 in 2013-14 following -donations of $50,000 the previous year and $100,000 in 2011 from the ETU's Victorian branch, with smaller amounts from several -unions over the past decade.

Michael Danby, Labor member for Melbourne Ports and a strong critic of Greens policies, said: "Hundreds of thousands of dollars of the Greens political party's public funding is funnelled into defeating Labor represen-tatives. It's hard to see . what benefit it is to union members for the ETU or other unions to hand over their members' funds to Senator Di Natale and his Greens party, especially when the Greens have similar views to the Liberal Party on penalty rates."

Senior Labor figures have privately urged union leaders to stop funding their political rivals but the complaints have failed to sway the CFMEU or the ETU. Most Labor MPs would not comment publicly on the dispute.

Senator Di Natale has named Mr Danby's seat as well as the nearby Labor electorates of Batman (held by Labor frontbencher David Feeney) and Wills (held by retiring Labor MP Kelvin Thomson) as targets "within reach" this year. An effort is also under way to seize Labor territory such as Grayndler in NSW, which will be vulnerable to the Greens if sitting member Anthony Albanese, the opposition infrastructure spokesman, moves to another seat with a better chance of victory.

One Labor figure said it was hard for ordinary party members to see officials from the CFMEU sway policy decisions and pre-selections but then give money to the Greens to campaign against Labor.

Another warned that some -unions were taking a simplistic approach to politics but could not be convinced to stay loyal to the party that has traditionally backed workers.

CFMEU construction division national secretary Dave Noonan dismissed the anonymous critics as "sooks" and rejected claims he and others were being disloyal to Labor by helping the Greens.

"It's a matter for the union and determined by its democratically elected governing bodies," Mr Noonan said. "It is disclosed as required by law. The union is loyal to the interests of its members first and foremost."

The ETU ended its affiliation with Labor in 2010, declaring that it would support whichever party "speaks genuinely" for workers.

The union payments pale next to donations from mining and energy companies, which gave about $1.8 million to the Coalition and about $450,000 to Labor in 2013-14, but unions have the -capacity to offer more than cash.

The National Tertiary Education Union was hailed for mounting a $1m campaign to support the Greens in the Senate at the last election, confirming its break with Labor. The NTEU's last filing with the electoral commission confirmed it spent $1m on political campaigning in 2013-14.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon countered the Labor complaints by arguing that the Greens had shown they would defend the -interest of workers.

"Union allegiance has been to improving conditions for working people," Senator Rhiannon said. "The reason some unions have moved away from Labor is because Labor has changed.

"We've won our stripes by doing the hard work and being consistent. The unions are not fools - they can see the political landscape is changing."

With CFMEU officials facing legal action as a result of the royal commission, the government has demanded Labor and the Greens halt any donations from the militant union.

Senator Di -Natale declined to comment but Australian Greens co-convener Penny Allman-Payne insisted the party would -accept donations just as other parties did. "It is the Australian Greens' long-held policy that elections should be publicly funded, to reduce the influence of political donations," she said.

"Within the current system, the Australian Greens do accept donations, subject to the review of all donations above $1500 by our Donations Reference Group."

The party also countered the idea that the donations influenced votes in the Senate, noting that the Greens had introduced legislation to abolish the ABCC in 2008 and its votes against the restoration of the ABCC were consistent with that position.


How the Costco mirage is fooling Australians

The `membership warehouse club' is booming Down Under. Here's the secret behind the store's success

Costco - the bulk discount retailer - is expanding yet again.

The multi-billion-dollar global business has already opened stores in Melbourne Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney. It sold $1.3 billion worth of merchandise to Aussie shoppers last year.

Now it intends to open three more stores in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, while gearing up to enter Newcastle, Darwin and Wollongong.

Is Costco any good? It offers some items more cheaply than other retailers and has many devoted fans. But its business model is set up to exploit our decision-making blind spots.

Costco can work amazingly well for many people. But it can be a mirage for many others, offering the appearance of great value while simply lifting $60 from your wallet.

Before you become a Costco fan, you should be wary of these three tricks Costco is using to help it make millions in profit every year.

1. Memberships

If you casually show up at Costco, they won't let you in. Not even to browse. You must be a member or a guest of a member. Memberships cost $60.

It is weird for a shop to charge entry. But there's a reason.

Prices in store have small margins. Costco make almost all of their profit on memberships.

Plenty of people join, then never buy enough to get their money's worth. Costco members will tell you it's your fault if you buy a membership and don't use it. But this is how Costco thrives. Selling heaps and heaps of memberships, including to people who never use it, is their business model. Just like a gym.

Some people will keep shopping at Costco even though it is inconvenient, just to make sure they don't "waste" their membership. They're probably even worse off than the people who just lost $60.

Spending time to try to feel good about $60 you spent six months ago is a classic case of the sunk cost fallacy, where you use resources inefficiently so previous resources you used up aren't "wasted".

2. Petrol

Costco petrol is really cheap. As low as $1.04 a litre recently, when nearby service stations are charging 15c more.

The CEO says they are seeing "spectacular" growth in fuel sales. But they're making basically zero profit. Why?

It's the same reason those four cents off shopper dockets were such a big deal a decade ago.

People are obsessed - even irrational - over the price of petrol. Price is the only way to compare petrol, so it is easy to compare prices between different service stations. They put the price on big signs and compete to be one or two cents lower than the servo up the road.

If Costco drops the price of its petrol by 10 cents, it looks amazing. We notice that far, far more than if they drop the price of a pack of toilet paper. Who can remember the exact price of toilet paper?

If you fill up there a lot, of course, it's good value. But not all Costco shops have petrol stations, so you could be driving a long way to make a small saving.

And if Costco aren't making money on the petrol, they are making it up elsewhere, in places you don't notice.

3. Bulk

Costco sells whoppingly large things.  Five kilograms of Nutella? Done. Six litres of vokda? Sure.

You should get a better deal when you buy in bulk anyway. But Costco implies the cheaper per unit price makes it special.

These whopping amounts put strain on your home. Who has space in the fridge for a kilogram of eggs?

When you're in the store, it's easy to forget how annoying it is to have your cupboards full to bursting and easy to convince yourself you'll use something fast. The reality can be different. At my house we just threw out half a packet of frozen beans we got at Costco over a year ago.

If Costco is coming to your town, make sure you're not getting fooled before you shell out for membership.


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