David Leigh  
  • WOOD CHIPS OR LIVE EXPORTS

    26 June at 14:48 from atlas

    There is talk, by certain Liberals, that many starving people in Indonesia will no longer be able to afford meat, should live exports be discontinued. Presumably because their wages and living standards are much lower than those of ordinary Australians? The assumption is therefore that with Indonesians killing their own meat it is cheaper than with Australians slaughtering and freezing the same. Is this not just another way of lowering costs and therefore boosting trade? Has this really got anything to do with the welfare of Indonesians? I think not.

    Many ordinary Australians cannot afford meat because the price has risen several fold since live exports began. When I arrived in Australia 30 years ago, meat was cheap. T Bone steaks as big as the plate were commonplace. Rump was a cheaper cut and a whole fillet was often used in Beef Wellington. Lamb chops were always the poor man's dinner and now, lamb is off the menu in so many places because it is too expensive. Scotch Fillet, which is rib of beef and was previously, used for roasting, is now the menu topper in most places and rump is sometimes available, albeit in a much reduced portion size. At the same time wages were higher than in EU countries, where I came from and where meat was expensive.

    If many Indonesians are starving how can they afford meat when so many Australians cannot? Is it because meat exports are subsidised? Could it also be that so many Australian abattoirs have been closed, taking away competition and leaving local meat prices at the mercy of increased transport costs?
    Look at the meat displayed in most large supermarkets. Despite the increased price of meat in general, the cuts are smaller and the quality is lower. There is more fat, more bone and in many cases, there has been colouring by injection, to redden the older meat on display. Recently, we had reports on TV of meat scraps being stuck together with chemical glues in order to recreate cuts of meat and in some cases, meat from cheaper cuts formed part of the more expensive cuts.

    Politicians bleat continuously about the jobs that are to be lost as a result of ending live exports and yet all those meat-processing jobs have already been shipped offshore for other countries to benefit from. The real core to this whole argument is contained in the letters of one word, "Exports". The wealth of our nation is gauged by the balance of payments, between imports and exports. The state of the Australian economy of displayed by our export figures, despite unemployment, poverty and the fact that many thousands of Australians are homeless and sleeping rough.

    The mining industry is another case where the welfare of the nation is forsaken. Again politicians talk about jobs and yet, compared to decades past, real jobs in mining are fewer now than at anytime before. Mechanisation is the culprit. Bigger machines and open cut seams make mining easier and more to the point, more profitable. The risk also is taken away when machines can process and sift through poor lodes and still get a good return. The rising prices of commodities over the last few years has also seen abandoned mine sites rejuvenated and yet, employment in mining is not the huge figure talked about by politicians. It is tens of thousands admittedly but when one considers a population of 22-million it does not look so high.

    Thirty plus years ago, the forest industry underwent a severe change. The focus shifted from solid timber and its associated products, to woodchips for fibre. Again employment was the first casualty and 80% of the workforce, of mostly skilled people, vanished. Even people wishing to take firewood from fallen trees were disallowed and banished from State Forests, by wood chipping companies, which took control of that resource.

    With the parallels drawn between these extractive industries is it not hard to imagine what will happen over the next few years. Wood chip is not the industry it was and Tasmania is seeing the reality of that right now. Three out of four of the major wood chipping companies have fallen by the wayside. The last player, Gunns Ltd is on its knees and about to collapse. With a share price that has fallen from $4.50 in late 2004 to just 26 cents and falling daily, despite market trends, it is only a matter of weeks before the inevitable happens. Those contrarians foolish enough to gamble on Gunns demise will likely get caught and sucked down with the sinking ship.

    With climate change, more areas of land previously under ice and therefore inaccessible, will now create new sources for existing minerals and the new "rare earth" minerals so sought after with rising technologies. Also, as mineral sources run low in Australia, or become too expensive to mine, we will become a forgotten land for commodities. The world has already shown its disapproval of wood chipping in Tasmania's native forests and that too will end soon.
    The meat trade is no different. It has forsaken skills and workers for the profits of a few to the detriment of the whole industry. As Indonesia becomes adept at processing its meat so it will become proficient in growing the source, either there or in some other location and Australia will no longer have its live exports. Like forestry, with the loss of skilled foresters, saw millers and other down line trades, the meat industry will not be able to readily pick up and start over, because so many abattoirs have been closed and the workers gone.
    Even the arts have been forsaken in Australia and humanities are way down the list for handouts at budget time. Foreign aid, other people's wars, refugees and building the wealth of foreign countries are high on the agenda. Free trade agreements see Australian artists, writers, actors and filmmakers either starve, leave the industry or go offshore, while cheap, already paid for, TV programs from the US flood our TV screens.
    Australia is rapidly becoming a third world country, especially in rural areas and this has to be as a result of our wealth being exported offshore. We have gone from a nation of prosperity, ideas and talent, to a country of commodity producers, competing with third world countries. Large corporations run the place and export whatever they can in volume and at the cheapest possible price. The profits go offshore and although the wages may be high for some, there are so few employed it makes little difference to our true economy, the economy that ordinary Australians live within. The figures look good as the politicians hold up published papers and we are told that Australia is doing better than most. On the other hand, our employment prospects are dying on a daily basis, farming land and water rights are being sold overseas and foreign interests that do not have the interests of Australians at heart, are overrunning our farmers and our politicians are blindly pandering to their whims. Like the very sheep from which Australia gained its wealth status, successive governments fall into line and help the rich giants grow bigger. If this dig it up, chop it down and even if it's alive, ship it attitude is allowed to continue, we will rapidly become the unlucky country and Australia could turn into a cultureless wilderness. Our skills are down; universities export degrees to far off places, while our own educated subjects queue up at Centrelink Offices. Unless your degree is in a subject that exporters can use you are almost guaranteed to be jobless.
    Politics must change in Australia if the nation is to survive. We have been told by none other than Barnaby Joyce that stopping live exports has insulted the Indonesians. Should not Australians be insulted by the way the Indonesians treat us? We pay them millions to halt the traffic of illegal immigrants and yet the boats keep coming. Australians are on death row or receiving harsher sentences than Indonesian terrorists that have killed Australians. Corby, Marijuana 20 years vs. Abu Bakir Bashir terrorist mastermind 15 years.
    Our very culture is being moulded into one, which is un-Christian and therefore un-Australian. Our values are being watered down to the point where Christmas and Easter may soon be a distant memory, for fear offending other cultures who choose to live here, invited or not. Australian subjects who were either born here or chose to accept Australian ways will be the victims of a political system that favours others over its own. Our land is only girt by sea until climate change causes the sea levels to rise and all the holes left by foreign corporations fill up with water. How much rejoicing will Australians do then? Unemployed, broke and starving, used and far from free.

    David Leigh

 

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