Joint bid for bushfire centre

ALBANY, Denmark and Plantagenet are collaborating to secure a State bushfire centre of excellence for the Lower Great Southern amid hot competition and condemnation by Opposition MPs that the selection process is “shambolic” and biased toward Perth.

After hearing about a request for proposals process for the centre from The Weekender in September, Denmark shire CEO Bill Parker this week said his organisation, the City of Albany and the Shire of Plantagenet had teamed up.

He, Plantagenet CEO Rob Stewart and Albany’s development services director Paul Camins said they had no complaints about the State’s selection process.

But they all said the four weeks given by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services to lodge submissions was “short notice”.

After it was revealed here that a submission process had been activated (‘Fire centre boost’, 27 September), Nationals emergency services spokesman Colin de Grussa dubbed the process “shambolic”.

He lamented that local governments had just a month to prepare submissions and there had been no official statement.

South West Liberal MLC Steve Thomas, who has done more than any other MP to see the centre gets located in either the Great Southern or Southwest, was just as candid.

After The Weekender on October 10 alerted him to a formal statement on the process issued by DFES that day, he asked Emergency Services Minister Fran Logan in Parliament if the Government had tried to minimise awareness to reduce the chances of regional areas applying.

In the shortest possible response, Mr Logan answered: “No”.

Before that, Mr Logan confirmed that no media statement had been released to signal the opening of the process.

He said all eligible local governments had been advised via the WA Local Government Association, and advertisements placed in a metropolitan newspaper on September 29 and October 3.

WALGA President Lynne Craigie confirmed that on September 25 her organisation sent an email to the CEOs of all local governments in the South West Land Division.

Both Mr Stewart and Mr Camins said they had learned of the process from WALGA.

The Weekender asked Mr Logan’s office why DFES used WALGA as an intermediary, and was referred to Department media officials who failed to meet our deadline.

Dr Thomas said WALGA was an important group, but not a government organisation.

“To suggest that WALGA is the distribution point is a complete abrogation of government responsibility,” he said.

“In September when the process went up, that was a major Government policy and that should have been a major Government media statement followed up by a major DFES statement.

“There needs to be a truly open and competitive process.”

Also unanswered were Weekender questions about Mr de Grussa’s “shambolic” charge, whether the RFP process would result in a recommended location or locations, and if results of the process will be publicly advertised and incorporated into a Cabinet submission.

The Nationals’ Member for Agricultural Region Martin Aldridge this week said the centre should be located at the Muresk Institute near Northam.

Dr Thomas said Northam was the “wrong place”.

“Apart from the fact it is in a Nationals electorate, Northam in my view is not close enough to a population within a forest,” he said.

He said Pinjarra and Waroona, or a combination of both, intended to apply.

“I know Collie is interested, Bunbury is interested, possibly piggy-backed with Dardanup or Collie or both,” he added.

“Busselton has a couple of good possible locations as well, and there’s a fair amount of State forest there.

“Manjimup is a fairly obvious regional central point in the middle of the heartland of the forest territory, and it will submit.”

Dr Thomas also said the Lower Great Southern would lodge a competitive bid.

“To me, those are the five strong options, on the assumption you don’t just stick it in Perth,” he said.

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Albany has lowest sex ratio

HETEROSEXUAL men in Albany may have cause for celebration as the city has the lowest ratio of males to females in regional Western Australia.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released on Thursday show there are only 87.1 males per 100 females in the South Coast’s only city.

This is the lowest sex ratio of any statistical area in regional WA.

The Albany sex ratio is the second lowest in the State, behind only the leafy Perth enclave of Mosman Park/Peppermint Grove that had 85.6 males for every 100 females.

At the other end of the scale, the mining areas of East Pilbara (274.7) and Ashburton (245.9) had the State’s highest male to female sex ratios.

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Generation next

ONE third of surveyed secondary school students say they have no knowledge of available careers in agriculture, while only 18 per cent say they know a ‘ fair bit’ or ‘a lot’.

A recent survey of 500 secondary school students across Western Australia undertaken on behalf of Manjimup Shire shows that 56 per cent of respondents who thought a farming career was out of the question do so because they are not from a farming background.

Manjimup Shire President Paul Omodei says the research is unique in that it asks young people what they think of agriculture and what the industry needs to change to attract young people to explore careers and enter the workforce.

“A career in agriculture has a lot to offer, graduates are in high demand, salaries are increasing and technology is taking off but many secondary school students don’t even know the industry exists,” Cr Omodei says.

“What this report tells us is how young people find information about careers and what materials will make them take a closer look at agriculture.”

The report notes that in many students’ minds a career in agriculture is not just a career but a lifestyle change, with 28 per cent of respondents concerned they would have to move from friends and family.

On the upside, 20 per cent of students who said they would consider an agriculture career did so because they liked animals.

Improving people’s lives, and an interesting work environment were the next most common reasons, at 18 per cent a piece.

One young man who has no doubt he wants to be a farmer is Patrick Swallow who is working at the robotic dairy and with beef cattle at WA College of Agriculture Denmark while on holidays from his Bachelor of Agribusiness course at Curtin University in Perth.

Mr Swallow, pictured, a budding fourth-generation Denmark farmer, is a former student of the college who started studying there in Year 10.

“I suppose when I was younger, I looked at the police force or being a mechanic, but I always knew I was going to take over the farm one day,” he says.

“I always wanted to do it, but Mum and Dad never forced the farm on me.”

Mr Swallow said he would encourage any high school student to check out the Ag college system.

“It’s changed my life,” he said.

“Earlier in high school I probably wasn’t quite as academic or driven to do well but when I came here I was actually genuinely interested in it.”

Aside from one day taking the reins at the nearby family farm, Mr Swallow also aspires to become a teacher at the college.

Photo: Chris Thomson

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Joint venture food for thought

BUYING the farm next door may not be the most profitable way to expand an agri-business in the Great Southern, especially in an era of climate change, a prominent Western Australian economist advises.

University of Western Australia agriculture economist Ross Kingwell, pictured, says  many farms these days expand by first leasing new land nearby under a condition that they get “first dibs” on buying the property when the owner gets around to selling it.

“The advantage of that is you get to learn first-hand exactly what the quality of the land asset is that you’re likely to be buying so that you get very good intelligence about how valuable, how useful the land is,” Professor Kingwell says.

“The downside of buying out a neighbour is that you expose yourself to exactly the same climate variability that you face on your home farm.

“So that if on your home farm you get a dry year, you’re going to also probably get that on the neighbouring farm.”

Professor Kingwell says soils and enterprises that work best on neighbouring farms are also likely to do so on the home farm.

“So, you’re not spreading your risk; you’re just facing exactly the same risks on the neighbouring farm as you face on the home farm,” he says.

“The only advantage you really get is spreading your overhead costs across more hectares.”

Professor Kingwell says few farmers team up with farmers outside their area, but more should.

With colleagues, Professor Kingwell recently published a paper titled: Traditional farm expansion versus joint venture remote partnerships that modelled farm performance across 27 locations in south-western Australia, including the Great Southern locales of Katanning and Ongerup.

“The other way to go is the approach that the paper looked at, which is: ‘Well, what happens if you go into a joint venture with a farmer somewhere else who also wants to expand and can you share expansion opportunities by becoming joint owners in respective bits of land?’” he says.

“It works well if you’ve got two competent farmers who both want to expand but want to spread their risk.

“Both the farmers have to ask themselves a few questions such as: ‘Does this partnership offer economies of size for both our operations?’, ‘Does the expansion offer us potential to get some price discounts on our inputs?’, and probably most impor- tantly, ‘Are the returns from both farms a bit weakly correlated?’

“This would likely be the case if you had a farmer in a sheep dominant area like Gnowangerup go into business with a crop dominant farmer somewhere else.”

Professor Kingwell says in some Great Southern areas including Gnowangerup, Borden and Kojonup, climate change is actually proving beneficial – with less water-logging and better rainfall distribution.

“In the Great Southern, places like Ongerup and Katanning, it’s still possible to find a partner that reduces your risk and adds value to you business,” he says.

“So, even in the Albany area, which most people would consider a pretty good one for farming, it’s still possible to find a distant joint venture partner that actually adds value to your own business compared to investment in a farm next door.”

Professor Kingwell says out-of-area JVs are still “very uncommon” because they are so novel and it is difficult to identify a good partner.

“Most farmers do what their dads did, which is you just buy out a neighbour,” he says.

“Whereas, in the midst of climate change that advice may be less sound.”

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Great Southern brand

A REGIONAL brand to promote Great Southern beef, sheep meat and grain is well on the way to becoming reality.

The regional branding project run by the Stirlings to Coast Farmers group, alongside a company called AgLive, is enlisting digital technology to track the history of individual livestock as they move from gate to plate.

SCF CEO Christine Kershaw says the trial, involving 20 farmers, is building up a digital chain of custody to inform customers exactly where animals come from and the full history of their lives.

“This in turn has potential to bring farmers and consumers closer together through a locally branded product where meat quality and animal welfare go hand in hand,” Dr Kershaw says.

“Consumers want to connect with farmers and where their food comes from.

“What better time for us to do exactly that with full traceability becoming easier with this new technology?”

She warns that developing a Great Southern brand is not as easy as it seems.

“It’s really easy to put a logo on the side of a box and call it a brand,” she says.

“But not everything, especially in export markets, needs a regional brand – ‘West Australian’ is often enough.”

Dr Kershaw says the beef and sheep brand is being developed under the aegis of a co-operative being set up for SCF’s member farmers.

“The co-op will be for grain, beef and sheep, co-ordinating aggregated supply contracts through the region,” she explains.

“We’re looking at small, containerised, specialist grain blends that we can sell for high value.

“We’re developing a brand with the co-op itself as a reliable supplier of fully traceable product.”

Separate to the emerging co-op brand, Dr Kershaw says SCF is looking to develop a regional food brand to use the Great Southern to market specific grain, sheep and beef items.

Interestingly, the humble noodle is at the vanguard of that plan.

“Our farmers grow a top quality product for export, and Japanese millers add value by making it into a noodle,” Dr Kershaw explains.

“We have a project, which is in the third year of trials developing an agronomic package to say: ‘Yes, we can develop this good quality noodle wheat’.

“But we have an opportunity to put a regional brand around that, selling it through the co-operative to the specific high-value Japanese market.”

She says a delegation from Japan is likely to visit Albany later this year and a regional noodle brand is likely to be announced around that time.

The Great Southern is WA’s second largest agricultural region by gross value of production, with $1 billion of mainly grains and livestock coming from the region each year.

“This area here around Albany, with the high rainfall, has not been properly recognised as the food hub that it is,” Dr Kershaw says.

“The extended seasons and reliable rainfall means you can have a mixture of farming enterprises that you can’t have in the Wheatbelt.

“There is an opportunity to brand this region as a source of clean, green produce.”

Photo: Anthony Probert

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Ferraris trump Racewar of words

WORD of a Ferrari run up Marine Drive to the glamorous Garrison Restaurant left heated critique of the Racewars rev-fest floundering in its wake at a council pow-wow on Tuesday night.

At the City of Albany’s monthly Community and Corporate Services Committee meeting, Acting Council CEO Michael Cole revealed Marine Drive would be closed in “a couple of weeks” for a Ferrari time trial to test the tarmac for the introduction of a full-blown Ferrari ascent during Racewars 2019.

Amid claims by Deputy Mayor Greg Stocks that the council could do more to support Racewars, Councillor Rob Sutton nominated facilitation of the planned “Ferrari Club hill climb” as one instance of the City paving the way.

Mr Cole said City staff “had gone out of their way” to make Racewars a winner, including allowing high performance street machines to motor down the runway of Albany’s City-owned airport.

“The fact they can run down that strip on a long weekend – unheard of,” he observed of the Labour Day speed-fest.

But Alison Goode – who from 1999 to 2007 was the City’s first mayor – ripped into an economic benefit figure for Racewars provided by City Governance and Risk Manager Stuart Jamieson.

Cr Goode dubbed the $5.3 million economic benefit figure “nonsense” and “ridiculous” based on the 9000-plus people estimated to have attended the event.

“I don’t know what your magi- cal figure is, but it’s an insult,” Cr Goode told Mr Cole.

“I’ll take that on board, Councillor,” Mr Cole said before assuring the former mayor the figures were based on “sound modelling”.

A recommendation that the Council receive Mr Jamieson’s evaluation of Racewars 2018 – and con- sider extra cash or in-kind funding – was endorsed nine councillors to two, with Crs Goode and Tracy Sleeman voting against.

Pic: Albany motor enthusiast Joe Baker’s sleek 1986 Ferrari Mondial 3.2. Photo: Grace Jones

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Rate rise ‘agreeable’

A 2.95 per cent residential rate rise, up from last year’s 2.5 per cent increase, has been unanimously endorsed by 10 Albany city councillors.

Acting City CEO Mike Cole said this year’s planned rate rise was in line with the council’s 10-year financial plan.

“It will allow the City to continue its full schedule of capital works, maintain its cur- rent levels of operation to meet the needs of the community, and absorb some cuts to State Government funding for areas such as roads as well as above inflation cost increases in electricity and other utilities,” he told The Weekender yesterday.

Rates for Albany’s rural properties are set to rise by 1.55 per cent.

In the draft City budget, there is no allocation for the 2019 Albany Art Prize, after the 2018 prize cost $62,800 to organise and a 10-year sponsorship deal ended.

“The City is currently exploring opportunities and possibilities for the art prize into the future that provide the best option for the Great Southern’s creative community,” Mr Cole said.

“In the meantime, the City is continuing to support local arts through the Great Southern Art Award, which will be held again in 2019 and has a budget allocation of $20,657.”

In a budget benign for builders, developers, fitness freaks and pet owners, council fees for building and development applications, entry to the local pool and gym, and dog and cat registration will largely stay put.

The City expects to issue $12,120 of fines for Dog Act infringements, but none for stray feline offences.

“Compliance income is difficult to predict, and infringeable laws for dogs and cats do vary,” Mr Cole explained.

“While the City has the power to fine people for not registering, microchipping or sterilising their cats, there are no laws against wandering cats, making it very difficult to enforce.

“While rangers regularly issue infringements for wandering dogs, they very rarely respond to calls about wandering cats and if a cat is picked up without the required identification, the owner is unlikely to be found and infringements for failing to register, microchip or sterilise the cat cannot be issued.”

At a committee meeting on Tuesday night, the draft budget was unanimously endorsed by Mayor Dennis Wellington and nine City councillors ahead of its now-likely approval at the next full council meeting.

Deputy Mayor Greg Stocks dubbed the 2.95 per cent increase “pretty agreeable”.

He said the City was “not beholden” to capping rates at the current 1.9 per cent rate of inflation, as wages growth at the City was higher.

He warned if modest rate increases did not occur every year, ratepayers would be slugged with an “eight-and-a-half to 10 per cent increase” less frequently.

“All power to Mr Cole – good on you!” the deputy mayor enthused.

Mr Cole said the City’s elected officials should be credited as well.

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Macca vs Mazza over live exports

A HEATED exchange over live exports between Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan and Agricultural Region MLC Rick Mazza has seen the chair of a Parliamentary committee call the pair to order.

Proceedings of the usually sombre Standing Committee on Estimates and Financial Operations commenced cordially enough on June 21 when the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MLC asked Ms MacTiernan what she had done to establish global markets for Western Australian farmers.

Ms MacTiernan said the big challenge in the export of grain, which constituted 80 per cent of WA’s agricultural exports, was competition from the Black Sea and Argentina.

“Whilst at this stage this increasing production from Argentina and the Black Sea is focusing on the lower end of the value chain in grain, we are aware that the Russians and the South Americans are very capable people; they will be doing the R&D and they will be improving their grain over time,” she said.

“A very important initiative of ours is that we have increased funding for grains research by $24 million this year.

“We have reoriented the Northern Beef Futures Program.”

Mr Mazza said he understood WA had a very good year in 2017, producing just over 16 million tonnes of grain.

“My understanding is that the Black Sea produced over 100 million tonnes, a significant amount more than us,” he explained.

“There has been a lot of media commentary around the fact that the live export controversy is going to affect our grain market.

“What is the Minister doing about making sure that we continue to have markets for our grain in Western Australia?”

Ms MacTiernan said the overwhelming market for grain was an export one.

“In terms of the live export industry, I want to make this point: I know that the member has been saying things like I have destabilised the live export industry.

“The live export indus- try has been destabilised by poorly performing exporters.

“It has been destabilised by a Federal Government that over the last five or six years has refused to enforce its own regulations, and that is what has —”

Mr Mazza interjected.

“Come on, Minister,” he said.

“Your rhetoric around live export is what has caused the market to fall.”

Ms MacTiernan hit back, saying Mr Mazza had asked her about live export.

“That is nonsense,” Mr Mazza retorted.

“What we are trying to do is ensure –” Ms MacTiernan began explaining before committee Chair, her Labor colleague, Alanna Clohesy called “Order!”.

One Nation MLC for South West Colin Tincknell chimed in, claiming Ms MacTiernan was avoiding Mr Mazza’s question.

“Thank you, Honourable Member,” Ms Clohesy said.

“I will chair this hearing.

“Minister, if you could keep your answer—I understand the member mentioned live export; the question was related to wheat exports.”

Ms MacTiernan explained she was trying to understand the connection between live export and wheat.

“Yes, I am too,” Ms Clohesy confided.

“Perhaps we could move on to a new question.”

Ms MacTiernan tried to make a point before Ms Clohesy again intervened.

“Minister! Order!” she exclaimed, twice.

“Thank you.

“I am inviting the Member to move on to a different question so that we can keep the flow of the hearing happening.”

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SW MLC calls BS over DBCA acronym

THE ever-changing name of the State environment department has come under the probing gaze of South West Liberal MLC Steve Thomas.

Addressing Western Australia’s Environment Minister Stephen Dawson at a Budget Estimates hearing on June 20, Dr Thomas directed his attention to a page in the hearing papers.

“The top of that page says ‘Division 40: Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’,” Dr Thomas commenced.

“Minister, will you please change the name back to either DPaW or something with a useable acronym?”

Stepping in, hearing Chair Alanna Clohesy, the Labor MLC for East Metropolitan Region, reminded Dr Thomas he had seven minutes of probing left.

“So if you have any other questions that are more pressing?” she suggested.

But Mr Dawson explained he would be “happy to provide an answer given the Member took the time to ask that question”.

“You can just say ‘no’,” Dr Thomas advised, before Mr Dawson commenced his answer proper.

“Member, this has been a controversial name in some quarters, but can I say, it does really show the breadth of the agency,” he said.

“If you think of where we came from, we had the zoo, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, Parks and Wildlife Service and Rottnest—all four different agencies—and we could not get all their names in the title of a new agency.

“We believe that the words ‘biodiversity, conservation and attractions’ really shows what this agency is about.

“I understand the name is not a favourite of yours. I know you are very passionate for the agency itself and you do not like the name, but there is no plan to change it.”

Ms Clohesy then told Dr Thomas – whose dog-legged electoral region hugs the coast from Mandurah through Denmark to Albany – he had “six-and-a-half minutes left”.

“Thank you, Minister,” Dr Thomas recommenced.

“Let us go into the details of DBCA, then.

“At the top of Page 572, Minister, there is a great line at the beginning of that page that states: ‘Invasive pests, weeds and diseases will continue to be managed’.

“My first question is: how well are they likely to be managed?”

The hearing continued.

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City all aboard 10-year lease

TRANSWA is likely to be offered a lease to transform a plot across the street from its current terminus into a new one, despite concerns a decade-long agreement may stymie the transformation of Proudlove Parade into a tertiary education centre of excellence.

As revealed in last week’s Weekender (‘Bus- port bumped’), TransWA plans to move its terminus from Albany’s former train station to a grassy block across the street after the University of Western Australia secured the historic building, recently vacated by Albany Visitors’ Centre, for its new wave energy centre.

At a committee meeting on Tuesday night, Acting City CEO Michael Cole said he had seen plans for the new terminus, including a demountable ticketing office.

“It’s a tastefully done demountable,” Mr Cole said.

But Deputy Mayor Greg Stocks said he was concerned the 10-year lease planned for the council-controlled site could delay plans to do “something really special” there.

Mr Cole said there were very few options for the block, which had been procured from the State on a “use-it-or-lose it” basis.

“A period of 10 years is attractive to [TransWA],” he said.

“A period of five [years] may not be.”

He said he had seen no evidence in the two years he had been at the City, since moving south from Perth, that UWA wanted to develop the block.

“If they’d had a use for it they would have grabbed it,” he added.

Cr Stocks said he was satisfied with Mr Coles’ response but that the plot had been bought for the City, not the State, to use.

“We bought that block to [in] future use it for a university precinct,” he said.

“What if we want to go back to UWA in six years; How do we cover that?”

Before moving that the 10-year lease be endorsed, Mayor Dennis Wellington said he was “very happy” with the draft TransWA lease.

His motion, seconded by Cr John Shanhun, was endorsed 11 councillors to nil. It is slated for final debate at the City’s next full council meeting.

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