Tuesday, 08 November 2016

MRC Executive Director: Nick Cater


MRC Executive Director Nick Cater writes in The Australian:

Picture the producers at the ABC’s Four Corners planning meeting, tossing up ideas for next week’s show. Some klutz suggests the uplifting tale of the enterprising Tasmanians who turned Atlantic salmon into a $1.8 billion earner, providing jobs to more than 3000 people on an island where work is in short supply.

Their enterprise and persistence means ordinary families can enjoy tasty meals using a conveniently packaged, fresh Australian product high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.

And if governments were a little less greedy with their taxes and a little less fond of red tape, they could grow their business even faster and satisfy the growing demand from Asia’s middle class.

The producer’s pitch is followed by an awkward silence. You’re new here, aren’t you? That’s not the way we tell stories on Four Corners.

Last Monday’s episode on salmon farming followed the dreary formula that came close to killing northern Australia’s cattle trade, threatened to send greyhounds to the knackers yard, rubbished the dairy industry and announced the end of coal. Scary music, time-lapse images of rolling dark clouds, concerned environmentalists, cornered company executives and warnings of the catastrophe around the corner unless the government steps in.

You can tell the villains by reading the official transcript. Every “um” and stutter by an industry representative is faithfully reproduced, making them seem shifty, hesitant and evasive. “At the moment, um, the government’s got a, a cap on, um, production around there. W-we’re farming within that, um, cap so we see …” Everyone else, apparently, spoke in clear, articulate tones.

Let’s deal first with the facts that weren’t covered by Four Corners before considering the ugly, business-hating culture it reflects.

Seafood production is one of the hopes of the Tasmanian economy. It has overtaken dairy to become the third largest export. International trade increased by 27 per cent last year, including a doubling of sales to China.

It is hardly under-regulated. The industry has to comply with 70 federal and state acts. The Marine Farming Planning Act, for which penalties were recently increased, was acknowledged at the World Aquaculture Conference two years ago as a blueprint for how things should be done. The independent Environmental Planning Authority was recently put in charge of monitoring aquaculture, as the Greens had been demanding. The Tasmanian government knows this has to work if the state is to break the cycle of mendicancy. “We will continue to work with the industry … to ensure the salmon industry remains something that every Tasmanian can be proud of,” Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff said in a statement to Four Cornersthat somehow failed to make the cut.

Tassal, the largest salmon producer in Australia, came under particular scrutiny, despite the program’s failure to give substance to a single damaging claim. Tassal is certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, which World Wildlife Fund Australia describes as “the most credible, independent, third-party certification for salmon aquaculture globally”.

Tassal donates money to the WWF for its conservation activities, a gift portrayed on Four Corners as sinister, which makes you wonder why they bother. Tassal’s crime appears to be success. When Four Corners calls the program Big Fish, we know it’s not meant as a compliment. Tassal “boasts an annual revenue of $430 million and rising”, we are told in a disapproving tone. That’s less than half the ABC’s budget, incidentally, but we’ll let that pass.

In the eyes of the greenish Left, a successful business is not a reason to celebrate but to regulate. The issue of what needs regulating, how it should be regulated and who should be the regulator hardly matters. Private people should not be allowed to go about their business unsupervised; that’s what governments are for. Last year federal Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson demanded a Senate inquiry into the salmon industry. “It’s actually my role as a senator to provide checks and balances to such rapid economic expansion,” he told the ABC. “Unchecked growth in a number of different industries has actually led to the demise of those industries. It’s not just about the environment.”

Inconveniently, the Labor-chaired inquiry gave the salmon industry a clean bill of health, making just three recommendations for minor improvements. Anne Urquhart, who chaired the inquiry, said: “The evidence provided to the committee about the impacts of the industry in no way justifies extra bureaucratic measures or more onerous regulation.”

Yet regulation is what the industry’s critics demand: regulation for regulation’s sake. Manufacturing regulation is a growth industry. It provides incomes for thousands of activists, bureaucrats and lawyers pursuing imagined market failure. The Anti-Obesity Coali­tion, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Friends of the Earth; the list goes on, each wagging their fingers at problems only governments can solve.

The growth of these unaccountable regulation mongers, encouraged by tax-deductible gift status, fringe benefit tax exemptions and grants, has caused untold damage to the Australian economy. Deep-green ideology has stunted Tasmania’s growth for more than 40 years. Every living creature in Tasmania is sacred except its people. Tasmanians have the lowest average income, some of the highest unemployment rates and the lowest number of businesses per capita of any state.

Meanwhile, our appetite for seafood is growing. In 2001 the average Australian consumed 13kg of seafood. This year it will be more than 15kg. Nutritionists tell us that’s a good thing, yet the seafood market has never been more competitive. Incredibly, Australia, a nation of 24 million with the world’s largest protected economic zone to fish, imports two-thirds of its seafood. The importers of frozen salmon from Europe and basa — our most popular imported fish, grown in the Mekong Delta — would be watching Four Corners and ­cheering.


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