Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Bureaucratic resistance to development of the Ord

For years, nobody has been able to make the Ord work so when a Chinese company thinks it can you would think that nothing would be too much trouble.  Think again

Five years ago, when little-known Chinese property developer Shanghai Zhongfu won the sought-after right to lease and double the area of farmland in the remote Ord irrigation area, it was seen as a bold move by the West Australian government.

The Chinese company’s $700 million winning bid, beating others with cattle, cotton and ­sandalwood tree aspirations, was to clear 14,000ha of dry scrub country on the broad Ord River plains to turn into rippling fields of irrigated sugar cane, much of it funded by the Australian taxpayer.

Next would follow a futuristic $400m sugar-based ethanol processing plant at Kununurra, hundreds of jobs and an upgraded and rejuvenated port at nearby Wyndham from where the biofuel would be shipped back to a renewable ­energy-hungry China.

It’s a dream that has not exactly come to pass.

Today just 3000ha of rough cattle country has been transformed by Shanghai Zhongfu, trading locally as Kimberley Agricultural Investment, into beautiful loamy fields, at a cost to the Chinese investor of more than $100m. The crops are not wall-to-wall sugar but a patchwork quilt of chia, quinoa, corn, chickpeas, sorghum and mungbeans.

There is no big factory employing dozens of locals. Just a modest $5m grain-cleaning plant is on the drawing board.

Instead of smooth progress, there is deep-seated bickering between the Chinese company and the WA government over lease documents, clearing approvals, land titles and the terms of the original 50-year deal.

There is disquiet, too, that KAI last year spent another $100m buying the adjacent vast Carlton Hill cattle station and seems hellbent on accelerating its cropping plans there before investing more time and money on its leased Ord stage two land.

Yet in the small town of ­Kununurra, the Chinese newcomer is regarded as a welcomed and wonderful addition to its agricultural scene and the wider local community of 5000 people.

Its arrival is seen as adding much-needed scale to the farming district and its money has provided 55 direct jobs, poured thousands of dollars into the coffers of local ­contractors, stimulated an innovative joint venture investment into new crop research trials and sponsored dozens of community events.

KAI also has bought the biggest resort hotel in town, the Kununurra Country Club, and established its own farm machinery dealership and servicing business because specialist mechanics and machinery parts for the big cropping and land clearing equipment it owns were so hard to find.

KAI plans to build a $40m cotton processing gin and a distillery to turn local Ord sorghum into a new brand of China’s favourite baijiu white spirit, the most widely consumed alcoholic drink in the world.

True to its word, there has been no influx of Chinese employees or workers, other than the company’s much loved local resident chief executive, Jianzhong Yin.

Managing director Jim Engelke is a long-time Kununurra local and one of the town’s most ­admired leaders.

Carefully watching all the twists and turns of Shanghai Zhongfu’s progress in the Ord valley is the Australian government and its Chinese counterpart, and many large agribusiness ­investors and companies in both nations.

The economic success of the relatively small farming patch of the Ord irrigation scheme — and therefore KAI — is seen as essential to the opening up and public funding of more dams, irrigation projects and wider agricultural development across Australia’s underdeveloped north, already identified as a federal government priority.

More directly, the decision to allow the Chinese company to play such a crucial role in the development of Kununurra and the Ord valley’s farming future — which won public support at the time because the land was leased, not sold, by the WA government — has been heralded as a model for further large-scale foreign involvement in Australian agriculture, especially where foreign entities are the beneficiaries of Australian taxpayer-funded infrastructure.

East Kimberley Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Jill Williams believes on both ­levels KAI has worked miracles in the Ord valley, often against the odds.

She believes the Chinese business, headed by self-made billionaire Pui Ngai Wu, has achieved and invested much more than any other Australian company bidding for the Ord stage two expansion tender back in 2012 would have by this time.

“We are so lucky to have a company like KAI that has the ­capacity, the dollars and the vision to achieve what they have in the Ord already and what they still plan to do; it has made a huge difference up here,” says Williams.

“You would think (the state and federal government) would be jumping through hoops down there to clear the way and help investors like KAI get on with what they are doing — developing, expanding, value-adding and providing jobs — yet they are being stymied by processes, delays and bureaucracy at every turn.”

It is clear WA’s Labor government is not as convinced as Wil­liams that the Chinese in the Ord experiment entered into by its Liberal predecessor in 2012 is working ideally yet.

Shanghai Zhongfu got a “very good deal”, according to WA ­Agriculture and Regional Development Minister Alannah Mac­Tiernan.

Paying a peppercorn rent, rumoured to be $1 a year, 100 per cent Chinese-owned KAI was offered a 50-year land lease on the Ord stage two expansion land, which was already supplied with irrigation channels, water, roads and negotiated native title exemption courtesy of $315m of WA taxpayer funds and $195m from the federal government.

It was a deal not without criticism at the time.

MacTiernan’s Labor colleague Paul Papalia, then opposition agricultural spokesman, questioned why public dollars were funding a Chinese company’s bottom line, when KAI had no agricultural experience.

Palia said the plan had always been for at least half the new Ord cropping area to be offered to small mum-and-dad Australian farmers and asked why that intent had been abandoned.

Last week, The Australian revealed that the WA government has never handed over the tenure and title documents to the leased Ord stage two farming land, despite KAI having spent $150m developing and farming its first tranche of new cropping pad­docks.

Engelke says without land title documents, no other investor would have even started converting cattle blocks into fertile cropping paddocks, let alone kept on pouring money into the project.

“Everyone knows we need tenure — no sane person could argue otherwise — and so this sort of ­bizarre behaviour doesn’t instil confidence in investors like Mr Wu or for our bankers,” he says.

“It also shows why the development of Australia’s north is so slow — inching forward at such a glacial pace — because while there is no shortage of people interested in trying to make it happen, it really is confined to wealthy individuals like Twiggy Forrest, Gina Rinehart or Mr Wu who have a passion for it because no one else would be prepared to take the risk.”

Williams remains incredulous that something as basic as land title has been withheld from KAI after five years of total commitment to the Kununurra town and the Ord community.

“They are Australia’s biggest squatters, all because of small-minded bureaucrats,” says Wil­liams. “People down south (Perth) and in the east (Canberra) don’t understand this country, the seasons, and the dynamic up here; yes, we need some regulation but it has to be timely, transparent and with deadlines so people can decide in advance if they can work with, or it is all too hard.”

But MacTiernan decries KAI for failing to tell the whole story. She says the land tenure documents have been withheld because the Chinese company has proved nigh on impossible to work with, demanding concessions and a relaxation of its agreed Ord development conditions at every turn.

She believes focus has been lost since KAI bought Carlton Hill Station and is moving fast to clear and develop 10,000ha to 15,000ha of river flats there, under its plans for cotton growing and cattle fattening.

“We have been very encouraging of KAI and it is very pleasing to see their investment in, and acceptance by, the (Ord valley) community,” says MacTiernan. .

“But in 2012 they entered into a development agreement that came with a whole range of conditions and requirements that have now been frequently watered down and options added in recognition of their role and commitment; but now it is time they focused and go into this (original) development agreement signed.”

MacTiernan says what crop is grown in the Ord by KAI — whether it is sugar, chia, sorghum or cotton — does not matter and is not the cause of contention.

Instead, she says, it has been the Chinese company’s continual pressure to scrap company ­guarantees, reduce bond commitments and convert some government leasehold land to KAI freehold and to extend the 50-year lease to an automatic rollover in 2062 that has strained the relationship.

But Jianzhong believes differently. He blames anti-Chinese sentiment. “The politicians say they are supportive but in the bureaucracy they seem to hold the old ideology (that is anti-Chinese) and so while they are polite, all the approvals are very slow or nothing happens,” Jianzhong says.

“We have invested so much money and developed so much land but there is still suspicion about what we are doing; I see (the delays) as a sign that we are welcome in Kununurra; we are not welcomed by wider Australia; and we are not yet treated the same as Australian farmers.”

The impasse infuriates Agribusiness Australia chief executive Tim Burrow, who fears the same problems will beset or discourage other potential foreign investors in northern Australia when the Ord’s emergence as a productive and profitable food bowl — with the help of Chinese investment — should be a shining light for Australian agriculture.

“I don’t understand what it is that makes people think that agribusiness operations are fair game,” Burrow says. “No other sector of the economy would put up with this level of impost. Governments cannot continue to oppress the most vital, ­vibrant and innovative sector of the economy with this yoke of having to comply with unnecessary pettifogging rules, regulations, red tape and bureaucratic inefficiencies.”


'Male and female' and 'penis and vagina' banned from being used in schools so transgender children feel more comfortable

What a lot of confused nondsense

Gender terms like 'male' and 'female' could be stripped from Australian classrooms as a way to make transgender children more comfortable.

In a move to make classrooms more gender neutral, body parts could be described by their function rather than their traditional names, according to The Australian.

Terms including 'penis and vagina' could be swapped for 'sperm and eggs' and 'erectile tissue' could be used to describe the penis and clitoris if schools were to begin teaching sex education classes with a focus on gender neutrality.

A report discussing sex education policies in New Zealand in the Journal of Sex Education has discussed how LGBQTI could influence sex education.

The report by Damien Riggs and Clare Bartholomaeus of Flinders University in South Australia calls for gender neutrality that looks further than a 'male with a penis and female with a vagina'.

It comes a month after two NSW catholic high school students, who identify as males, won the battle to wear boys' uniforms despite being born female.

The Trinity Catholic College allowed the students to use unisex toilets and change their names on the school roll.

The college is also reportedly considering a 'gender neutral uniform' for the entire school.

As an associate professor in social work, Mr Riggs told the publication gender neutralising sex education could be difficult to understand but it opened up the discussion between parents and children without them getting 'tripped up with the language'.

Mr Riggs said neutralising classrooms would reduce unwanted pregnancies and reduce children 'being coerced into having sex they didn't want to have, including transgender kids'. 


Despite Greenie prophecies of doom, the Great Barrier Reef is bouncing back from its recent stresses

Researchers have observed signs of new life in some of the worst affected areas of coral bleaching of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The corals of the Great Barrier Reef have undergone two successive bleaching events, in 2016 and earlier this year, raising experts' concerns about the capacity for reefs to survive under global-warming induced events.

But after a coral reef survey in September, researchers found tiny sacs of white eggs in bleached coral reefs, raising new hope for the reefs after the recent bleaching events, which affected close to two thirds of the Great Barrier Reef.

The tiny coral eggs were found in coral reefs between Townsville and Cairns, by researchers with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

Dr Neal Cantin and project leader Dr Line Bay, who are part of the coral bleaching response team, were surprised to discover early signs of new life.

Dr Cantin says they'd returned to assess the mortality and survivorship from the central sector of the Great Barrier Reef.

'We travelled to 14 reefs between Townsville and Cairns, including Fitzroy Island where we saw surviving coral producing eggs, which was not expected at all,' Dr Cantin said.

'Previous studies have shown a two to three year delay in reproduction after severe bleaching but at most of the reefs we are finding colonies of Acropora (branching hard coral) colonies with early signs of egg development in shallow waters, 3m to 6m deep.'

Dr Bay said that the researchers took samples from six different coral species across inshore and offshore environments to help them understand how water quality may also affect bleaching susceptibility and recovery.

While the researchers still have to analyze the data, the reaf bserved significant recovery, particularly on the inshore reefs.

'The majority of coral colonies on the inshore reefs have regained their color and the growth of some colonies was so good they had overgrown our original research tags,' Dr Bay said.

However, the news was not all good. 'Some of the more sensitive corals are now rare even in areas where they had been abundant in March,' Dr Bay said.

Dr Cantin says that fertilization of the tiny eggs happens during the annual spawning event, which is due on the full moon of December 5, and the AIMS research team will test whether the eggs are able to be fertilized. "There is concern the eggs may not be able to successfully fertilize and develop into coral larvae,' Dr Cantin said. 'The eggs are now white, and just before the spawning event they should turn pink when they are preparing for the spawning.'

Dr Cantin says each coral could produce eight to 12 eggs per polyp in colonies of thousands of connected polyps.


Tony Abbott accuses Gosford priest of Peter Dutton ‘sly smear’

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has accused outspoken Anglican priest Rod Bower of “smearing’’ Immigration Minister Peter Dutton after he posted “Dutton is a sodomite” on social media.

Father Bower said the definition of sodomy was not about homosexuality. “The sin of Sodom is greatly misunderstood by those who usually choose to do so, it has nothing to do with homosexuality, it is all about hospitality, or more to the point lack there of, and particularly about the condition of the heart that leads to inhospitable behaviour,” Fr Bower said in a Facebook post last week.

Mr Abbott said. it was a “sly smear by the sounds of it”.  He said it was surprising that “someone who wants us to love one another would be putting out that sort of message”.

“Fair enough he obviously has pretty left wing political views. He’s entitled, even as a clergymen, to have left-wing political views, but you’d think a spirit of charity would pervade all he does certainly things that he does in a considered way should have a spirit of charity that seems to be missing,” Mr Abbott said.

Reverend Bradly Billings, the assistant archbishop at the Anglican diocese of Melbourne, replied to Fr Bower’s post and said it had “no place” on a church notice board.

“How does this advance the gospel and the standing of the Anglican Church in the community? What will passers-by think? Without the accompanying exegesis of a complex passage in Genesis on this page, the sign will look and sound like a very personal slur on a government minister.”

“As much as your audience here will applaud it, what will be read as an ad hominem attack, and language like this about person however strong our disagreement with that person may be, have no place on a church notice board,” Reverend Billings said.

Fr Bower then defended the sign and said it was only posted for social media, and was not displayed on his church in Gosford’s sign. “This particular sign was posted only for social media where there is the accompanying commentary and is not on the roadside sign.”

“I recognise that we come from very different theological standpoints, but thank god for the breadth and depth of Anglicanism that can accommodate us both.”


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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