Sunday, October 03, 2021

China expected to stop phosphate exports, food production prices set to rise

There are huge deposits of phosphate in North Africa so China is the main supplier only because they do it more cheaply

China's economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is moving to restrict the production and export of phosphates until the middle of next year.

Phosphorus is an essential plant nutrient. Australian grain farmers use the granulated fertiliser at planting to establish crops.

The fertilisers are made from phosphate rock reserves mined mainly in China, Morocco, Western Sahara, the US and Russia.

Last year 65 per cent of the mono ammonium phosphate (MAP) fertiliser used in Australia came from China.

Phosphates editor with fertiliser market publication Argus, Harry Minihan, said US import duties on Moroccan and Russian origin phosphates had caused the product's price to double in the past year.

He said restricting its production and export would serve China in two ways in this high price environment.

"The Chinese government want to make sure there is enough product in the country for farmers, and they are also trying to reduce emissions as well."

However, this will cause pain for other nations.

"China is the top phosphate supplier into Australia, and if there is a restriction in exports, it's going to have some real significant impact on Australian buyers."

Not a trade issue
While a phosphate shortage will drive up costs for Australian farmers, Mr Minihan said restricting exports was not related to trade tensions between the two nations.

"This is going to have severe effects on other major importers as well," he said.

"It is not just Australia that is going to be affected.

"India is the world's largest DAP importer, and they still have significant requirements for their winter rabi season."

Difficult purchasing decisions

Wes Lefroy, senior agriculture analyst with Rabobank, said prices were also high across the range of farming inputs, including chemicals.

"From a glyphosate perspective as well, prices out of China have more than doubled this year, and around 65 per cent of the globe's glyphosate comes from China, and that represents a large chunk of Australian supplies."

Mr Lefroy said there was no reason to expect fertiliser prices to fall before next season.

Currently, urea and phosphorous fertilisers are trading either side of $1,000 a tonne, much higher than usual levels.

"We're expecting prices to remain elevated into 2022, which puts farmers in a difficult position ahead of next season," he said


Now "wilderness" is a wrong word

What image does the word "wilderness" conjure in your mind?

Maybe it's damp moss encircling a giant myrtle-beech in takayna/Tarkine, or dry red earth and rocky outcrops deep in the centre of the continent. Or it might conjure nothing at all.

We don't all perceive wilderness the same way, and for Wardandi and Bibbulmun woman Chontarle Bellottie, it's a totally foreign concept. "Wilderness is not in my language. It's not in the way that I communicate," she says.

"Because for me, my interpretation of [wilderness] is untouched, whereas we know as traditional owners that we've cultivated and gathered and hunted for so many thousands of years ... in a way where we've been able to live off the land in a very sustainable way."

While some people might not associate wilderness with a complete absence of people, many do, and that's a problem, according to Wiradjuri scientist Michael Fletcher.

Dr Fletcher, a palaeoecologist and geographer at the University of Melbourne, started exploring the idea when investigating the formation of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area landscape. "I found it was people who were responsible for its present form and its form over the past 40,000 years," Dr Fletcher says.

His analysis of sediment layers suggest that the lush temperate rainforest that we see today was, until colonisation, eucalypt savannah and grassland actively managed by Aboriginal people.

"So the term wilderness is not only inaccurate, the notion that wilderness carries, which is the absence of people, is dehumanising really to Aboriginal people."

It's time to strike terms like "wilderness" from our lexicon, he adds. "While they're just words, they're actually very powerful."

The prevalence of the wilderness concept means global conservation policy and public perception still often overlook how biodiverse landscapes have been shaped by Indigenous people, Dr Fletcher argues in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

"Globally, many places that are called 'wilderness' are either current home to Indigenous people who actively manage the landscape, or are former landscapes which Indigenous people were the managers of, and are still trying to get recognition and agency back into their territories," he says.

"And they're being inhibited by this notion of wilderness, which underpins many conservation efforts."

Dr Fletcher says excluding Indigenous people from places, whether under the guise of wilderness protection or not, has degraded the health of those ecosystems — especially in Australia.

But there is disagreement over use of the term "wilderness" in conservation science, and it comes down to how you define it, according to James Watson, a conservation biologist at the University of Queensland, who was not involved in the study.

Although Dr Watson agrees with most of what the paper suggests about the need to include Indigenous people in conservation efforts, he says the idea that scientists still use the term wilderness to imply an absence of people was "nonsense".


Urgent action required as Australian kids get left behind on writing

Kids can think. They just can’t write. The same applies to teachers. No wonder we’re in a mess.

When you look at educational benchmarks – including NAPLAN results, back when the Queensland Government bothered to publicly release them – it’s clear that writing is not students’ strong suit.

Children are slipping further and further behind as they struggle to string a sentence together, and now schools are forking out big bucks on rescue packages.

Writing coaches are being brought in to show teachers how to do their jobs.

Schools, both private and state, are spending up to $100,000 a year on the Writer’s Toolbox program, which includes in-house workshops for teachers on the basics of writing and how to integrate them across the curriculum, not just in English lessons.

The program’s founder Dr Ian Hunter, a New Zealand historian, author and former university lecturer has pretty much struck gold.

The real question is: how was it allowed to come to this?

Sometime in the “free loving” 1960s, Education Queensland took its eye off the ball. It let the teaching of explicit writing skills slip in favour of encouraging individual expression.

According to Dr Hunter, “the rules of grammar went out the window”, and writing became about the process, one’s personal creative journey. “The mantra in Education Queensland at that time was ‘language is caught not taught’,” he tells Qweekend today.

“So we now have these generations of young teachers who have never been taught the rules of writing.”

I can’t count the number of times my son, then in primary school, would show me a teacher’s “corrections” on his homework, scribbles in red pen that were actually wrong.

Then there were the official letters home from school that were riddled with errors, using “less” when it should have been “fewer”, “me” when it should have been “I”, and my personal pet hate, the sign-off where they say, “please don’t hesitate to contact myself”. It should be “me”, and teachers should know this, but a good many don’t.

How, then, can we expect our kids to understand?

Writing is not some outmoded skill – even in this age of emojis, abbreviations and short, sharp text messages. It is essential to expressing our thoughts and consolidating ideas.

As prolific American writer Joan Didion, now 86, once said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” The very act of writing, including choosing the right words and structuring sentences, pushes us to think more, to analyse, to discover.

And unlike other things we learn at school but never use afterwards, writing remains relevant. Written communication is high on the list of 21st century skills that employers seek and understandably so.

Some of the most influential people in the world sparked change through their writing. Consider Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution informed modern science studies, or Simone de Beauvoir, who gave voice to global feminism.

Alarmingly, Dr Hunter says proper writing instruction – once the hallmark of good schooling - stops around Year 7.

From then on, kids are left free-wheeling and largely clueless about how to express the thoughts in their head.

When more sophisticated thinking is required as they move into the higher grades, they flounder, and by the time they get to university – if they make it that far – they really struggle.

It was while teaching business history to tertiary students in New Zealand that Dr Hunter realised just how compromised young people were, and it inspired him to write a book on essay writing.

Schools then asked him to write a version for younger audiences, and his Writer’s Toolbox took off from there.

What his experience shows is that two things need to drastically change.

Universities must sharpen teacher-training programs to include the essentials of good writing, and the government must strip back the curriculum to allow schools to once again put a laser focus on core skills.

We can’t expect kids to pick up writing by osmosis.


Punchard gone at last: He got off lightly

A senior constable convicted of leaking personal information about a friend’s ex-wife and her new partner, including their address, after accessing a police database has resigned from the Queensland Police Service following years of legal battles.

Neil Glen Punchard, 55, had a suspended prison sentence reinstated in August, following a successful appeal by the QPS.

His resignation from the QPS was effective from September 17, according to official police documents viewed by the Courier Mail.

The road policing officer from the South Brisbane District was charged in December 2018 with nine counts of accessing the Queensland Police Records and Information Management Exchange computer program – known as QPrime – and leaking personal information about the woman, including her address, to her ex-husband over a one-year period from 2013.

The mother of three told the Courier Mail in 2019 that she had moved her family twice in three years – after first making sure the removalists were not being followed – after the officer passed her address along to her ex-husband, Punchard’s childhood friend.

Punchard pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in 2019 to nine counts of using a restricted computer without consent, gaining the benefit of knowledge, in 2013 and 2014.

He received two-month jail sentence, wholly suspended for 18 months, with a conviction recorded, but remained a serving police officer, on full-pay “administrative duties” at the time but was later suspended on full pay.

A back-and-forth lengthy court process ensued, with Senior Constable Punchard first winning an appeal against the jail sentence in 2020 with District Court Judge Craig Chowdhury instead re-sentencing the officer to 140 hours of community service with no conviction recorded.

On August 13 this year, the Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by the Commissioner of Police and set aside Judge Chowdhury’s orders.

The appeal court heard that Punchard had already completed the 140 hours of community service, but the appeal court judges said that fact “did not cause such an injustice” to the officer to be an impediment to their orders that would effectively reinstate the Magistrate’s sentence.

Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll has been under pressure by both the victim and members of the community to sack Punchard and has previously said she would consider his suitability to remain employed by QPS after the appeal process was finalised.

An online petition calling for Punchard’s dismissal from the police service has reached 67,352 signatures to date.

The woman filed a breach of privacy case against the QPS in Brisbane’s Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) in 2018.

Her complaint about the privacy breach was passed around between the QPS, the Crime and Corruption Commission, Ethical Standards Command and politicians for years, before QPS “substantiated” the complaint.

The QPS always denied the agency was liable for breaching the woman’s privacy.

Access to QPrime was tightened by the QPS in 2016, with members of the public now even prevented from accessing their own files.




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