[Note: I visited with the Thompsons at their farm during my visit to Narrogin. While time did not permit me to do the full scale story that Jo Nova does below, I’ll point out that I grew up in farm country of the Midwest, I milked cows when I was 11. I also cleaned toilets at the county fair at 14 (a job nobody else would do but it paid $100 for the week, a fortune for me then). I know what smells and how. If you want to smell a poorly waste managed feedlot, try driving on I-5 near Coalinga, and get a whiff of the Harris Ranch feedlot.
While I’m on the subject of issues in Australia having to do with environmental red tape, I’d like to remind everyone of this story from Australia’s terrible wildfires: “We’ve lost two people in my family because you dickheads won’t cut trees down…” – Anthony]
Did you know in Australia it’s possible to ruin a business if you don’t like the way it smells? This is a heartbreaking story — that a government could effectively ruin a family by slowly strangling them in red tape, and that they would have apparently no protection from the courts or the ombudsman. It eats away at our sense of justice. Can we speak freely? Are we all treated equally under the law, or are some laws only enforced according to a capricious whim?
This is the price we pay for vague laws where business people can run ventures, do everything to the letter of the law, with best-practice procedures, winning customers and contracts, yet go broke despite all that because of onerous, impossible-to-meet conditions, that are unmeasurable, and change suddenly, with the added bonus of inordinately long delays. At the moment, Janet and Matts farm, Narrogin Beef Producers, lies empty, unstocked, while debts accrue by the minute.
This is also a story of sovereign risk. Investors in Australian industry beware.
Unused equipment that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars lies idle.
How can any business survive the need to get two-yearly licenses which take more than 12 months to arrange; where after four years of planning and preparation, capacity can be suddenly halved without warning; where an appeals process can take 18 months and when the original capacity is finally restored, not only are many new stipulations added, but the expiry date is not extended. After 30 months of a grinding process, the farmer is only left with 6 months before the amended license expires and no way to take out loans based on such an uncertain future.
If the government were a private business paid to arrange licenses, and expected to be evidence based and to respond in a reasonable time, then they would have no customers. Indeed, they could be sued.
Matt and Janet were told their license would be a formality, and they took out loans and contracts for water and grain in advance. Their input costs last year added up to around $10 million dollars. When the capacity was halved there was no way under the laws of biology and commerce that they could bring in the cash flow to meet those costs. When they appealed, there was no timeframe, no indication it would take 18 months to be resolved, so they took out loans, bore the costs, the interest, and paid for water they did not use, and grain no cow would eat. Their money was effectively squandered by the unpredictable rulings of the state government.
Bear in mind, the Thompsons have broken no laws. Most of this case boils down to a small number of complaints about odour. I would not wish foul smells on anyone, but the evidence there is suggests the problem is minor, and the level of complaints has no relation to the number of stock on the Thompson’s farm in any case. There is the troubling possibility that if someone took a dislike to another party, or had another vested interest in property nearby, or in a competing business, theoretically they could solicit complaints and exaggerate. How would we know? It’s hard to photograph a smell. It’s an avenue ripe for exploitation. Lets keep things in perspective, Janet and Matt live at their farm, closer than anyone else to any odours and emissions, and their farm is next to a piggery (ferrgoodnesssake) which has been there for more than 20 years.
Read the whole story at Jo Nova: Tyranny: How to destroy a business with environmental red tape