Monthly Archives: August 2015

Bush Matters Op-Ed – “Icons should be priceless”

25 August 2015

Countless men, women and children have met their maker in the vast emptiness of the Australian outback.

Their marked and unmarked lone graves are scattered wherever settlers have roamed in Australia.

Some died in accidents along the stock routes or in the mining tents, some infants died of pneumonia in their mother’s arms as the family wagon searched for land, some died when a petty quarrel ended in gunshots in some off-beaten campsite.

But while each site marks an important moment in time in our history, there is perhaps no more famous final resting place than the shallow waters of a billabong in north-west of Winton.

The fate of the swagman in the song Waltzing Matilda has been enshrined in Australian folklore for more than a century, yet its appeal never wanes.

Schoolchildren sing it. Historians discuss and debate it.

Some historians and legal professionals have even go so-far as to claim there are serious discrepancies in witness accounts about the shooting death of Samuel “Frenchy” Hoffmeister that challenges the idea he committed suicide.

Some view it as a political allegory about the class war between workers and graziers during the shearers strikes of the 1890s.

And in many ways that perhaps shows the lasting appeal of Waltzing Matilda.

In many ways it is still a puzzle how this song has become seen as embodying the official spirit of Australia.

It remains a uniquely Australian story yet we still ask ourselves what Paterson meant when he wrote the words?

To this day, we still wonder why a song about a thief who commits suicide still swells us with such pride and patriotism?

We ask ourselves, more than a century after it was written, what does this song say about our national spirit?

The song again drew headlines in June when the Waltzing Matilda Centre at Winton was destroyed by fire.

Like most Australians, I felt a genuine sense of loss when I heard the news.

That sense was only further amplified when, about a fortnight later, I travelled to Winton with Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash and saw the damage to the museum first hand.

In the weeks since the fire it has come to light that a Melbourne-based production company has sought to expand its trademark over the Waltzing Matilda brand.

It has sparked a heated debate about the commodification of our national icons and whether it is appropriate for private companies to claim ownership over symbols that have transcended their original meaning to become external expressions of a society’s inner convictions.

Banjo Paterson could never have fathomed when he wrote the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda in 1895 that his words would later provide console for diggers in the First World War trenches, temper for crowds cheering Australian sportspeople and inspiration to untold songwriters, poets, writers and, even the odd politician or two.

The swagman in our song has taken a hallowed position as the type of character who the rich and powerful might regard as a criminal, but who we, the average Australian, believes to be a hero, champion and fighter for justice.

There is no doubt that cultural icons can have significant commercial value, since the marketability of products or services may be boosted by an association with an iconic symbol and its inherent message.

But I do not think I am alone when I say that I do not believe national consciousness should be commodified.

Some things must be above the almighty dollar.

Waltzing Matilda expert and Kynuna resident Richard Magoffin was the owner-operator of what he called the Matilda Expo and Heritage Theatre, where for almost two decades he sang, played an accordion and told his stories. He also sang and told stories in Kynuna’s Blue Heeler Hotel.

Magoffin was a bloke who understood what made up the Australians spirit.

Interviewed before his death in 2006, Magoffin said he believed Waltzing Matilda was much more than a simple ditty about a swagman who leapt into a billabong.

Instead, he said the song was the celebration of the Australian predilection to “talking in opposites” – turning disaster into humour.

“We call a tall man Shorty, a red-headed bloke Bluey, a big fella’s called Tiny and you can call your best mate a proper mongrel bastard,” Magoffin said.

“Anzac Day commemorates a dreadful military disaster and we sing a silly song about a suicide. It all suits us because we are a silly lot … I don’t know whether we turn disaster into chaos or into humour or both.”

Any warm blooded Australian can’t help but smile when they read this wry characterisation of our peculiar national consciousness.

It’s a spirit we’d be fools to give away, let alone sell to the highest bidder.

Surat Basin news Op-Ed – “Connecting the Surat Basin with the World”

16 August 2015

It seems like a pretty simple equation – government increases its investments in modern infrastructure to lay the foundations for future economic development, growth and prosperity will follow.

Government invests the capital required to build the roads, bridges and power transmission lines and this will help society increase its wealth and our collective standards of living.

We know and appreciate that efficient infrastructure will underpin the future economic strength in the Surat Basin. We know government has a central role to play in this process.

This has been a strong focus of the Federal Government and its “infrastructure” Prime Minister.

After all, the Federal Government’s $1.285 billion funding commitment to the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing is the largest single contribution to a Queensland road project since Federation.

But government cannot, and should not, fund all infrastructure projects that our nation requires to be competitive in the global marketplace.

And therefore, finding the right balance between government and private sector contributions in major infrastructure projects is a challenge we must confront in the coming years.

Perhaps I am biased as a proudly Toowoomba-based Senator, but I believe the recent opening of the Wellcamp Airport by the Wagner family is a visionary example of private sector initiated infrastructure that has wide reaching benefits to the surrounding community and businesses.

As Sydney continues to debate and disagree about the placement of a second airport, the Wagner family has efficiently and effectively constructed a world-class airport on the Darling Downs.

This progressive family was not going to die wondering.

And in time, their efforts will reposition Toowoomba as a major logistics hub.

Recent modelling by KPMG suggests delivery of major infrastructure such as the Wellcamp Airport, the Second Range Crossing and Inland Rail across our region will eventually establish a critical mass, making it more attractive to operators and investors alike.

It is predicted these projects will provide advantages not yet been conceived in current modelling.

In particular, these infrastructure enhancements are likely to reduce transport operating costs which is likely to make Toowoomba more attractive for regional level warehousing activities.

The Wellcamp Airport is a turning point for our region as we begin to rely less on Brisbane to export our goods and instead focus on new initiatives such as this new airport and the Inland Rail to Melbourne.

Wellcamp sets a crucial example of the benefits that can be derived when government, in the right circumstances, gets out of the way and allows the private sector do what it does best.

Government must ensure that supportive regulations, transparent procurement procedures, and careful consideration of environmental and social impacts propel regional infrastructure are in place to private enterprise to take the wheel and steer our region’s future direction.

Bush matters Op-Ed – “Beef inquiry needs facts, not rumours”

7 August 2015

The Australian beef industry was born, unofficially at least, when two bulls and four cows escaped their convict herder within a few days of settlement and ran wild into the never-ending bushlands surrounding the fledging colony.

Attempts by some entrepreneurial convicts and free settlers to capture the cattle were mostly unsuccessful and it is believed these cattle roamed relatively freely over the next few years, gradually growing into a herd of more than 100.

When the increasingly troublesome herd became worth less than the hassle it was causing the colony, Governor Bligh in 1807 ordered the 19 herd bulls to be shot and salted for consumption.

It’s quite remarkable to consider our ever-growing and world renowned beef industry came from such ragged origins, where farm level gross value of red meat livestock production now contributes more than $11 billion and post farm gate red meat sector contributes a further $16 billion.

In many ways, some parts of the contemporary regulatory environment that our beef supply chain wades through has the wild and woolly look of the wayward bulls that Governor Bligh ordered to be shot and salted.

And while there might be some who would argue the Federal Government should take a similar heavy-handed approach when dissecting the competition laws and regulations that shape the Australian beef supply chain, I believe a measured and responsible investigation into the issues concerning producers and processors can deliver long term advantages to both parties.

It was in this spirit that the first public hearing for the senate inquiry into the effect of market consolidation on the red meat processing sector was held in Roma this week.

While more than 10,000 head were consigned at the store sale less than a kilometre away, senators gathered to speak with a list of witnesses that consisted almost entirely of graziers.

It’s no secret that producers have long argued they face a serious lack of competition from buyers, caused both by consolidation in the processing industry and the increasing market power of the supermarket duopoly.

The speed of consolidation in the processing sector has rung alarm bells among some producers, with one example being Brazil’s JBS growing into the most dominant processor in the Australian livestock market in less than a decade.

The $1.45 billion conditional approval, by my government, for JBS to takeover Primo Smallgoods sparked further public backlash which partially contributed to the decision to undertake this inquiry.

Similarly, while Teys has a long history in Australia, the 2011 joint venture with agribusiness giant Cargill has facilitated exponential growth for the company.

We have seen the decline in meatworks across the nation in recent decades, which can be attributed to industry rationalisation – driven by over-capacity, inefficiency, tight supply, labour shortages and export competition.

Other facilities perished simply due to market influences at the time or as a result of the owners failing to invest in processing innovation and technology.

Many of these plants were small, regionally-focussed and would have struggled to stay profitable in a modern marketplace.

Nevertheless, this provided the opportunity for large multinationals to enter the market and quickly take a dominant position by constructing larger, more efficient plants that could support economies of scale.

But, just as we repeatedly ask ourselves when considering our supermarket duopoly, how big is too big? And what is the impact on the other supply chain stakeholders?

Even in their absence, the presence of the processors was still felt at the inquiry hearing on Tuesday.

Many of the producer-witnesses said there were others who could make a valuable contribution to this inquiry, but they were concerned about future retribution from the processors to speak out.

No adverse inference should be drawn about the larger because the evidence is yet to be tested.

However, the very fact this has been articulated speaks volumes about the levels of mistrust between producers and processors in some parts of the market.

This is a great problem for this inquiry as it moves forward and there are already machinations behind the scenes to look at ways to overcome it.

When we next hold a hearing, it will be in Canberra at the end of this month. The major processors are expected to appear before the committee and their responses to the committee are likely to be highly anticipated.

Without pre-empting the exact nature of their answers, we do know that the processing sector have long argued it struggles to operate under the weight of high volumes but low profit margins.

These companies provide similar answers whether buying cattle or negotiating an enterprise agreement with the union.

It must also be noted that there are serious questions over why it seems the value of offal and co-products are not currently worked into the price of the beast, particularly given these items have risen in worth in recent years and this additional payment has become standard practice in other beef-producing nations.

When we hear anecdotal evidence that bulls’ pizzles are retailing for up to $90 per kilogram as pet treats and cattle gallstones, which are used in Eastern medicine, could be worth up to $30,000 a kilogram, there is a very real need to investigate how the profits from these co-products can be better filtered through the rest of the supply chain.

The processors believe there is a free market in the red meat sector. They claim the spread of national, large, mid-size and smaller processors across the eastern seaboard as well as the ability to move cattle across jurisdictions is clear evidence that no processing company can hold monopolistic power.

This inquiry is complicated because it deals with the thousands of saleyard and over the hook transactions that take place in every corner of Australia every day.

It is also complicated because the levels of mistrust between processors and producers have reached such heights that rumour and misinformation can distract the real issues at the heart of this inquiry.

Rumours can have a way of slipping under our mental defences before we think to question them.

It is important we catch these rumours and kill them quickly if this inquiry is to have an opportunity to benefit our livestock industry.

One thing I know for sure is that all stakeholders want a mutually-beneficial outcome that pushes our burgeoning and iconic industry forward.

That’s why facts and figures should be our focus so we can build a solid foundation that ensures there is transparency, accountability and profitability across all links of the beef supply chain.

Polity Magazine Op-ED – “Beyond Sensationalism and Tokenism: Taking Domestic Violence Seriously”

1 August 2015

There is perhaps no more harrowing and frustrating time for a police officer than when they arrive at the scene of a domestic dispute that has turned violent.

In nearly all cases, the male is the perpetrator, using his natural strength to overpower and intimidate his family.

When the police walk through the front door, they are often confronted with the female partner, who is frequently confused, frightened and angry.

If there are children at the scene, they often possess a world weariness that is well beyond their years.

The male is sometimes arrested. Sometimes he is charged and convicted.

But all too often the female, not accepting the terms of a respectful relationship, will eventually allow the male back into her home.

In a matter of time, the whole wretched cycle starts over until the police arrive again.

I write these words from my own memory. As a young police officer in Queensland, I lost count of the number of times I attended the scene of domestic violence.

These events had a permanent impact on my sense of justice and, when I entered the Senate last year, I vowed to make addressing the scourge of domestic violence among my highest priorities.

We know that domestic violence is an ongoing social and economic problem across the globe.

Even nations such as Australia, where there is greater gender equality and lower levels of violence, still confronts this terrible blight in the society on a daily basis.

In fact, research by the ABS indicates Australian women are most likely to experience physical and sexual violence in their home, at the hands of a male current or ex-partner.

About 36 per cent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence from someone they knew.

Of these women, about 73 per cent had experienced more than one incident of violence.

In 2015, almost two women each week are being killed as a result of gender violence.

There is little doubt the Federal Government is taking serious measures to make addressing domestic violence a national priority.

A domestic violence advisory panel has been created and has held its first meeting, led by former Victorian Police Commissioner Ken Lay, Australian of the Year Rosie Batty and Heather Nancarrow, who brings over 30 years’ experience on the prevention of violence against women.

The purpose of the panel is to advise the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on where current gaps in dealing with this insidious issue exist and make recommendations on how Governments can best respond.

The Advisory Panel’s formation follows the Commonwealth Government’s decision to elevate the issue of violence against women and their children to a national level at COAG.

These are significant opportunities for the Federal Government to improve coordination with state and territory governments to increase the level of meaningful public policy responses.

But, to be effective, we must avoid the pitfalls of sensationalism and tokenism as we strive for appropriate policy responses.

We must stop the debate and analysis of the problem of domestic violence at summits, royal commissions or within the pages of action plans, strategies and campaigns.

There is enough evidence and statistics to justify a strong response by government.

The community should not, and is not, satisfied with short-term solutions.

It’s time we take meaningful action.

I am confident every Member of Parliament possesses a desire to address this issue.

Therefore, we must commit to bi-partisanship to end this purge on our communities.

And we must be the side of politics that shows true leadership and negotiates for long-term policy change where, no matter which party is in government, there is a clear and unanimous strategy to tackle family violence.

The time has come to test the effectiveness of different policy combinations.

Whether it is drought, manufacturing downturn or rising cost of living pressures, public policy makers must accept that regional economic and social conditions are believed to be contributing factors to violence against women.

While nothing could ever excuse violence against women and children, there is a some academic argument that suggests in order to tackle domestic violence the problem should be viewed from the perspective of the daily lives of men and women who have experienced an erosion of their sense of economic and social well-being and instead confront diminishing prospects.

While some of these economic and social indicators are experienced nationwide, they can also often be zoned into a specific region.

It is these areas that should be selected for a test pilot program to examine the effectiveness of different public policy response combinations in the effort to curb family violence.

These could include initial team responses, follow-up responses for victims alongside prosecution policies and sentencing options. Justice responses could be coordinated with social services and family and/or civil courts.

These regional pilot experiments would enable practitioners and administrators to gain experience and understand how different response combinations would suit local circumstances and any special conditions.

It would then enable policy makers to develop better responses to which combinations are most effective under which set of circumstances.

And with domestic violence now on the agenda at COAG, there is a forum at the highest levels of government that can commit to adequately resourcing a test program to seek the best ways to combat family violence.

Perhaps the greatest challenge confronting public policy lawmakers is that a significant reduction in the rates of domestic violence across Australia will require a major change in our culture, not simply in our laws.

We need to teach our young men that violence is never okay, we need to teach our young women about respectful relationships, we need to target those at risk with prevention and we need to ensure support is available when women have the courage to leave a violent relationship.

The only way forward is a comprehensive approach that changes the attitudes that keep domestic and family violence hidden.

By taking meaningful action that translates the significant existing body of research into domestic violence into a region-specific test pilot program that examines the effectiveness of different policy settings, public policy makers will gain a greater understanding of how to effectively tackle incidents of domestic violence.

These important steps could prove the difference in saving the lives of untold women and children across Australia.