Monday, November 15, 2021

Northern hemisphere energy crisis hits Australian fertilizer supply

With so many coal-based generators shut down for Greenie reasons, Europe is grabbing natural gas supplies for electricity generation. And that is causing gas prices to soar worldwide

With global prices soaring, it seemed odd timing this week for Incitec Pivot to announce plans to close one of Australia's largest fertiliser plants.

The rising cost of another commodity — natural gas — appears to have sealed the fate for Incitec's Gibson Island facility in Brisbane.

"Despite extensive efforts, [we have] been unable to secure an economically viable long-term gas supply," the company said in a statement to the ASX.

"The decision to close the Gibson Island manufacturing facility after more than 50 years of operation is expected to impact up to 170 employees."

The company said it would cease manufacturing with natural gas at the end of 2022 but was looking into the potential of green ammonia.

The facility has spent decades converting gas into fertiliser products. According to its website, it has the capacity each year to manufacture 300,000 tonnes of ammonia, 280,000 tonnes of urea and 200,000 tonnes of ammonium.

China has enforced a ban on some ports exporting fertilisers, and more recently Russia invoked a six-month quota on its fertiliser exports.

"Incitec's [announcement] is not ideal in light of the other dynamics going on ... and we need to get our product from somewhere, so it's going to be a challenge," GrainGrowers chair Brett Hosking said.

"So to hear reports [about Incitec] has thrown another spanner into the works and that little bit of extra complexity in a grower's mind around how do I make sure I'm covered and how do I make sure I've got product?"

According to Thomas Elders Markets analyst Andrew Whitelaw, the announcement by Russia was another "death by a thousand cuts" for Australian farmers.

"The China ban is worse for us," he said. "Russia's quota will mean hundreds or thousands of tonnes, not millions of tonnes lost to the global market, but it comes at a time when we need every tonne available.

"So it's another weight against the fertiliser price, which is a really big challenge for Australia."

Research by Mr Whitelaw shows Australian wheat farmers need 2.8 tonnes of wheat sold to buy a tonne of diammonium phosphate (DAP).

"The biggest risk for a grain farmer in the coming year is buying high-priced inputs but not having high-priced grain," he said.


Palmer to swoop on angry Nationals voters snubbed by green shift

Make no mistake, seats based on coal production and farming will determine the outcome of the next election, writes Peter Gleeson, and Clive Palmer will spend millions trying to convince miners and farmers the National Party is selling them out.

Clive Palmer has his sights set well and truly on the National Party. The Queensland billionaire will ramp up political ads against Barnaby Joyce and his team in coming months. The campaign will centre on the Nationals being part of a Coalition Government which has committed to net zero emissions by 2050.

Palmer knows that mining and agriculture will be hardest hit by any “transitioning’’ of jobs to meet those 2050 renewable targets.

He will spend tens of millions of dollars trying to convince miners and farmers that the National Party is selling them out at a time when they are most exposed.

For the Nationals, the Palmer strategy – mirrored by Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter – is a massive threat to their ongoing electoral success.

The reality is that people like Senator Matt Canavan and Resources Minister Keith Pitt will not preside over the demise of these two industries.

They can’t, and they know it. This is where Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Joyce must use all of their political expertise and skill to ensure Palmer-Hanson-Katter does not cut the National Party’s voting grass.

Make no mistake, seats based on coal production and farming will determine the outcome of the next election.


$33 million Grampians Peaks Trail opens but land clearing, tent site fees are questioned

The Grampians Peaks Trail is now open after six years of construction and more than $33 million of investment from the state and federal governments.

Dozens of construction workers have laid 97 kilometres of new trail along with accommodation huts, 11 hike-in campgrounds, and trailheads almost doubling the number of walking tracks in Victoria's fourth-largest national park.

A large portion of the remaining 63 kilometres of the track has been upgraded.

With the trail, Parks Victoria says it hopes to appeal to first-time and part-time walkers beyond the more hardcore regular visitors.

Mr Thompson has been a member of Friends of Grampians Gariwerd since the area was declared a national park in 1984.

The group works to involve the community in conserving the walking tracks and natural environment.

Construction has involved removing 14.4 hectares of native bushland, and it is this aspect of commercialising the trail that is the source of Mr Thompson's conflicted feelings and those of his colleagues.

"As an organisation, we believe commercial projects should always be outside the park and the park itself should be for conservation and education more than anything else," Mr Thompson says.

"The amount of clearing in the national park always raises concerns, but it's necessary to give people access so they can realise what a wonderful place we have."

Around 35,000 walkers are expected to visit the Grampians annually by 2025, adding more than $6 million to the local economy. The park is already the third-most visited in Victoria.

Victoria's Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio says the protections in the national park are "very strong".

"Working across jurisdictions, we've made sure any disturbance has been more than compensated for by offsets in other parts of the state, including ensuring we go for similar classes and values of vegetation," she says.

"We are investing in other areas of the park, through tourism [and] as a result of the bushfires."

In the 2020 Victorian budget, the state government committed $7.8 million to upgrade McKenzie Falls, another popular Grampians destination, and $5.8 million for the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Centre at Halls Gap.

Jobs creation
The trail runs for 160 kilometres from Mount Zero near Horsham in the north to Dunkeld in the south.

Halls Gap is the only town along the Peaks Trail, meaning hikers have nowhere to stock up on supplies for the first or last eight days of the full trip.

This has created a business opportunity locals are looking to take advantage of.

Adrian Manikas has set up the Grampians Peaks Walking Company to cater for the demand with food drops, adding to his existing rock climbing business in Halls Gap.

"We've got a strategy to hire a number of new staff over the next 12 months," he says.

"You do have to walk the trail from north to south if you are camping overnight, and there's a transport service based out of Halls that can take you to the start of the walk and then pick you up from the end and bring you back."

A registered Aboriginal group hopes the trail will lead to improved economic opportunities for Indigenous residents as well.

A bit rich?

Some hikers have raised concerns that the $47.70 per plot per night's camping fees make the 13-day hike too expensive.

But Parks Victoria chair John Pandazopoulos says it's an appropriate rate.

"With the licensed tour operators it's a higher price, and the whole pricing structure is about ensuring the cost of maintaining the track and servicing all the sites is recovered through the overnight charges," he says.

No less than 1,400 reservations have been made at Peaks Trail campgrounds since they opened on October 28.


Consumer-minded parents treating schools like shops, says principal

When John Collier, the retiring head of St Andrew’s Cathedral School, began teaching 50 years ago, parents had nothing to do with their kids’ schooling. They didn’t even turn up for parent-teacher interviews. “In many ways they were mystery figures,” he said.

Now, they’re much more involved, and - mostly - that’s a good thing.

But some, Dr Collier says, are behaving like chauffers, cheerleaders and customers while treating schools as a product, rather than a community. At the same time, they’re abrogating their authority and letting children have their way too often.

While leading a previous school, a father told Dr Collier his son had decided to leave. The boy was in year 2. While Dr Collier supports consulting children, they “lack the wisdom of perspective that comes from life experience, so having them make all the decisions is sometimes not good,” he said.

Dr Collier - a graduate of James Ruse Agricultural High - began his career in the early 1970s, teaching English at western Sydney public schools. He has been a principal for 31 years.

In 2018 he famously sent a newsletter to parents saying too many of them had verbally abused, physically threatened or shouted at staff members, and some saw the relationship with teachers as a master-servant one because they were paying fees.

While he says most parents, the silent majority, are supportive, Dr Collier worries about high parental anxiety, and how it affects students. Too often, for example, parents will take children out of a school because of a minor incident.

“There’s an increasing consumer mentality among parents about education, so they can at times approach it much like they will approach buying a garment at a department store,” he said. “If they decide they don’t like it, they’ll take it back and go somewhere else.

“The difficulty is we are dealing with people and not garments, there are relationships that are severed when people move on. Sometimes I see children in middle school who are in their fifth school, it’s very disruptive to their education.

“It teaches them that the first time you see a problem, you flee.”

Dr Collier said too many parents also shielded their children from accountability and negative consequences, while trying to be their friend rather than their guide.

“Parents are less inclined to direct their children as society changes, and more inclined to give the child his or her way,” he said. “My argument is that children need guidance; they have age-appropriate friends. Their parents need to be prepared to make decisions that are unpopular but in the child’s best interest.

“What we sometimes see is parents who’ve taken on the role of cheerleader and chauffeur rather than authoritative parent. This means some parents will defend their child no matter what their child has done, and try to prevent appropriate accountability occurring.

“People take the view that their family is their fort ... and must be defended and advanced, an aspect of growing individualism. Understandably parents are focused right down on their child, whereas schools have to focus on everybody’s child.”

Parental pressure on teachers is only one of the aspects of teaching that have changed during Dr Collier’s career. The job is now far more demanding, salaries have not kept pace, and severe shortages are looming.

He said the teacher shortage was an “urgent” problem; the state’s 39 Anglican schools alone will need another 1700 teachers for new positions - plus replacements for those who retire or leave - in the next eight years.

The most effective way to increase the attractiveness of the profession would be to increase pay, Dr Collier said. “To do so will be expensive, not to do so is in other ways more expensive in terms of the future of the nation,” he said.

“We have a splendid system of education which is often unnecessarily deprecated, but there are structural problems in terms of salary and conditions for teachers, and governments need to deal with those.”




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