Migration biggest contributor to population growth

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(Transcript from World News Australia on SBS Radio)

Australia’s population is projected to double by 2075 with migration as the highest contributor.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics report shows almost 15 million migrants are expected to arrive over the next six decades, bringing the country’s population to 46 million.

Marc Tong takes a look at the growth trends and their impacts on Australia’s major cities.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full story)

For the first time, the Australian Bureau of Statistics is including data from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in population projections over the next five years.

Combining those figures with current trends, migration numbers are estimated at 240,000 a year.

Demographer and Assistant Director at the Bureau Phil Browning says that’s an increase from past projections.

“The previous set that we did assumed 180,000 per year, so we’re 60,000 higher than that number. But that number itself was 70,000 higher than the set that we did before, where we set net overseas migration at 110,000. So migration has gone up a lot in the last five years.”

The Bureau projections show it will be Australia’s major cities that will grow the most as they attract the majority of migrants.

Phil Browning says some of the smaller cities will overtake today’s bigger ones.

“These projections show Perth is growing fairly fast at the moment. Melbourne and Sydney should be neck-and-neck (equal) by 2053 with 7.9 million people each, but Perth could overtake Brisbane in 2028 at three million people and the ACT could overtake Tasmania.”

But Dr Bob Birrell, from the Centre for Population and Urban Reseach at Monash University, says the projections are not definitive forecasts.

He says if the projections play out, states and cities won’t be able to cope with the numbers particularly when it comes to employment.

“The question is what are all these people giong to do and I don’t think there is a clear answer to this. At the moment what they are doing – or what the government hopes they will do – is that they will help to build the appropriate infrustructure, the housing and other facilities necessary to accommodate extra people. But it’s hard to see how that could continue forever because it will involve very considerable borrowing and at some point we will have to have an industrial base that would support these much larger populations.”

The federal MP for Wills, Labor’s Kelvin Thompson, agrees that Australia’s cities will come under huge strain from an increased number of migrants.

He says that strain will produce a gap socially and economically.

“I think this increase will be disastrous for the big cities. It will drive traffic congestion in gridlock, high rise and the loss of public open space, widening gap between rich and poor and social inequality. and it will also fuel housing unaffordability and job security for our young people. I cannot see any examples of cities or countires around the world which have effectively managed rapid population growth. In every case it’s smaller more stable populations which have fared better in terms of economic prosperity and also looking after their environment.”

But the Settlement Council of Australia disagrees that migration would cripple the social and economic fabric of Australia.

Executive Officer Sky de Jersey says history shows migrants contribute more to the country, not less.

“Continuing to support migration through strong settlement services is essential. There’s a lot of research on the positive benefits and the positive economic and social and civic contributions of migrants and people of refugee backgrounds to Australia and that’s leveraged and strengthened when you have strong settlement services, particularly in the early stages of settlement. People can do really really well and if you look at the top billionaires and millionaires of Australia there’s an interesting number of them from refugee and migrant backgrounds.”

Then there’s the question of health services to support the current population and future migrants.

Dr Birrell says while an influx of migrants can provide temporary relief for when baby boomers age, there is a catch.

“In the medium term it will be beneficial in the sense that most migrants are of working age and therefore when the baby boomers retire, having more migrants in the working ages here will slow the process of decline in the number of workers in proportion to dependents. In the long term migration is not a great deal of help because migrants get older and the migration solution requires more and more migrants.”

But the Settlement Council’s Sky de Jersey says even if the numbers increase as projected, it will be met by an increase of services.

“The services generally grow as the communities grow, so the projected increase is one of the factors and it’s generalyl done in a very planned way, there’s a fair amount of consultation that happens around that so I don’t foresee any particular consequences from that point of view. Australia ranks fifth internationally in terms of integration. There’s a study done regularly called the Migration Policy Index and it looks at integration across a range of policy areas and Australia’s fifth out of 33 countries internationally, which I think is pretty high.”




Comment: Walkley Awards recognise online journalism – it’s time we all did

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By Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

For the first time, the 2013 Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism include prizes for Multimedia Storytelling and Podcast (the latter within the broader Radio Documentary category).


The new categories represent a significant, if still cautious, embrace of the digital age by Australia’s premier journalism award-giving body. Their inclusion signals some recognition of all those are-they-or-are-they-not journalistic forms that we associate with the rise of the internet.

There is a film I talk to students about called Shattered Glass (directed by Billy Ray and released in 2003) because it marks, for me, the moment at which media power really began to shift from analogue to digital platforms.

The film tells the true story of Stephen Glass, who in the late 1990s fabricated dozens of major feature articles for The New Republic in the US – one of the most prestigious and authoritative news publications in the world.



The whistle was blown on Glass not by another print outlet, or a network TV news investigation, but by a reporter for (the now defunct) Forbes Digital Tool, Adam Penenberg. Forbes Digital Tool, part of the Forbes.com business media empire, was one of the first online news publications, and this was the story that made the established media take them, and digital journalism in general, seriously.

Breaking the Glass ceiling

That the Glass scandal was broken by an online publication is important for two reasons.

First, it put to rest the idea, common among journalists of the old school at that time, that digital media are less capable of producing quality journalism than the established print and broadcast media.

Second, it showed that the established media, staffed by trained professional journalists, rigorously edited and quality-controlled, are just as capable of producing worthless garbage as any blogger or social networker.

It blasted through the status hierarchy that divided analogue and digital media (old and new, if you prefer) from the mid-1990s, when web-based journalism became a presence in the media environment, until at least the early 2000s, when the two somewhat grudgingly learned to live with each other.


Esther Vargas


From this vantage point, we can see that journalists and their media organisations have, in the last 15 years or so, gone through a process akin to bereavement or loss. There was Denial, then Anger, then Depression, then Negotiation, and now Acceptance that digital technology and social media are here to stay.

We should welcome that outcome. Digital media allow ordinary people to participate actively in the production of journalism, and comment and react to it with unprecedented speed and ease.

Crude, but good

User generated content may be raw and often crude, but it opens up the public sphere to all those millions of citizens (and non-citizens in the context of authoritarian countries) previously excluded by the limits of technology.

User-generated content is increasingly used by mainstream news media, as in coverage of the Arab Spring protests assembled from cellphone video footage uploaded to YouTube or Twitter.

Millions of people can share the stuff they like on social media, which spreads the reach of good journalism, and critique or challenge the stuff they don’t like, or that’s just plain wrong.

Social media provide a Fifth Estate, another layer of scrutiny on the media itself. This can only be good for journalism which, as Shattered Glass demonstrates, is more than capable of the most humungous errors of fact, not to mention outright fakery and fabrication.

Digital media allow enhanced scrutiny of political and other elites. WikiLeaks proves how powerful the internet can be as a means of spreading information that the powerful may wish to keep secret.

Edward Snowden, too. All democrats should welcome the pressure these voices and the digital media they use put on governments to be more transparent, and to justify their policies on such matters as internet surveillance and censorship.

This is true of authoritarian regimes obviously – the Arab Spring was to a large extent a social media event – but as Snowden’s revelations show, liberal democratic governments have plenty of skeletons in their cupboards.

Digital media shine new light on them. In doing so, they enable us to make informed decisions about how much power our state should have over us.

All of this means the digital media are an asset, both to the mainstream news media, and to the global public, rather than a threat.

But WikiLeaks and Snowden also show the downsides of social media – so much information, too little time to process, analyse, make sense of it.

Sift work

In the analogue era we worried about information scarcity, and bias amongst those few outlets that existed. Today we have information surplus, and not enough time as individuals to assess it all for accuracy, or indeed bias.

And yes, maybe there were aspects of the big data leaks we’ve seen that were damaging to Australian, or US, or British national interests. But how do we know which bits? And do we have to suppress them all because one or two bits might be dangerous?


European Parliament


It’s the job of the professional journalist, working for properly-resourced news media, to undertake that filtering, sifting, sorting, interpretative work on our behalf, and with our consent. Trained journalists have the time and skills to make sense of 300,000 Iraqi war dispatches.

I don’t, but I do want to know what’s in them, and what it tells me about those who fight wars in my name. That is when I turn to my Guardian, or Australian, or Sydney Morning Herald. And that’s why, despite the challenge to traditional journalistic practices presented by digitalisation, the need for and value of professional journalism remains high.

Indeed, we might say the sense-making, sifting and sorting, reality-structuring functions of journalism become even more important in the era of social media and proliferating sources of news, commentary and analysis, where there is more information, coming from more directions than ever before.

Social media do not undermine traditional journalism – though they may expose its flaws, weaknesses and hubris. On the contrary, interacting and engaging with their potential is the key to the survival of a recognisable profession of journalism and a healthy news media in the coming period.

Embrace and prosper

To prosper in an online world news media must embrace digitalisation and social media, as most are now doing, while identifying and strengthening the distinctive qualities they possess as professionally trained, properly resourced, organisationally secure, trusted sources of news, analysis, commentary and opinion.




The news brands that survive the transition from analogue to digital will be those that successfully combine the dynamism and diversity of digital media with the authority, technical skill and aesthetic qualities we associate with the best of journalism today.

Cheap short-cuts, penny-pinching, down-sizing, hoping to piggy back on the power and appeal of social media won’t work on its own, because digital media start-ups do that better already (Gawker and Buzzfeed for example, or the Huffington Post).

Exploit the technology to make efficiencies, by all means, but organisations such as the ABC, Sky News, News Ltd, Fairfax must invest in their editorial resource as much as in digital infrastructure.

With that approach, journalists can aspire to again be what English journalist Joan Bakewell once called “a New Priesthood” – respected, trusted figures to whom we turn for guidance and advice about the complex world we live in.

That’s why awards such as the Walkleys remain important, and why it’s so encouraging they are taken so seriously, and receive such extensive coverage as they do. Not every country publicly recognises its journalists in this way.

Indeed, not every country has news media of the quality of Australia’s. And that is cause for celebration, on at least one night of the year.

Brian McNair will present the Radio/Audio Documentary, Feature, Podcast or Special Award at the Walkleys tonight, on behalf of the Creative Industries Faculty, QUT. The Awards ceremony will be broadcast on ABC3, hosted by Lateline presenter Emma Alberici.

Brian McNair receives funding from the Australian Research Council

I’ll handle England myself, says Australia’s Lyon

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Lyon captured key wickets in Australia’s 381-run victory over the tourists in the first test but question marks remain over whether the 26-year-old has the game to close out a victory.


Some of the doubt stems from last year’s test series against South Africa when Australia needed six wickets on the last day at Adelaide Oval to win on a deteriorating pitch.

Lyon took only one wicket that day, with paceman Peter Siddle taking the leading role with three wickets but South Africa, led by test debutant Faf du Plessis, held on to save the game before routing Australia in Perth to win the series.

“I’ve learnt a fair amount playing a few test matches down there,” Lyon told reporters on Thursday.

“I’ve learnt a fair amount about my game and what I need to do and what I need to do to get better.

“Fingers crossed there’s a little bit more spin down there and we’ll see how we go.”

Lyon is famous for having worked as a curator at Adelaide Oval in 2010 before being spotted by local coach Darren Berry and completing a remarkable rise to the test team the following year.

The offspinner took five wickets on debut against Sri Lanka and has 89 wickets from 26 test matches at a respectable average of 32.44.

He has often had a lukewarm reception from Australia’s selectors, however, who left him out of the opening two tests of the northern Ashes series in favour of an untried teenager in Ashton Agar.

Lyon will head into the second test with his status as Australia’s number one spinner in little doubt, however, though may have some part-time support from Steve Smith or captain Michael Clarke.

“In saying that if the bowling group does our job they (part-time spinners) won’t have to bowl,” he said.

“I’m more than happy to take on the responsibility of being the number one spinner and hopefully get a few overs under my belt.”

Much has been made of the sledging on the field at the Gabba and Lyon was arm-in-arms with his team mates when he said the hosts would not be curbing the aggression at Adelaide Oval.

“We’re not expecting anyone to roll over. We know the quality of the England cricket side,” Lyon said.

“We’re going to have to stand up … and start that fight again.

“That’s the way Australia play their best cricket.

“We know where the line is and we don’t step over it … We’re going to continue to play aggressive, hard cricket.”

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

Traumatising and inhumane: why TPVs have to go

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By Kerry Murphy, Australian National University

People smuggling has cost the lives of at least 1,199 people between August 2008 and November 2013.


Those fortunate enough to survive these tragedies at sea face enduring trauma: mandatory detention, loss of rights, and now, temporary protection visas (TPVs), which the Coalition reintroduced in October.

TPVs grant protection to successful applicants who arrive in Australia without a visa or whose case was undecided at October 18 this year. Some refugees have waited for one to two years for their visa due to security checks or review processes, and now they will only get a TPV.

Ordinarily, temporary protection is used internationally for a mass influx of refugees. This is currently occurring with Syrian refugees and previously occurred with Iraqi refugees. TPVs are certainly not one of the internationally recognised three durable solutions to the asylum seeker issue: voluntarily return home (when safe), local integration or a third-country resettlement.

Howard’s TPV 1 to Abbott’s TPV 2

The first temporary protection visa (TPV 1) was introduced in October 1999 as a deterrent to asylum seekers arriving by boat. After its introduction, the number of arrivals increased until the Pacific Solution was implemented in September 2001.

Under TPV 1, it was possible to get a permanent visa after 30 months on the TPV, provided you still met the refugee criteria. In practice, most cases took around four to five years to be decided.

TPVs – both old and new versions – provide a visa for three years only, and holders can only apply for a further protection visa while in the country. Holders of the new TPV cannot get a permanent protection visa, only another TPV if they again meet the protection visa criteria; whereas most of the holders of the old TPV could get a permanent visa if they met the refugee criteria again.

A TPV refugee can work, but has no entitlement to a return visa if they travel outside of Australia. TPV refugees cannot sponsor their spouse of dependent children while they have a TPV, unlike those holding a permanent protection visa.

Currently, the pathway to a permanent visa is only through very exceptional circumstances under what is known as a waiver of the “No Further Stay” provision. It is not enough for a TPV refugee to prove that they still meet the refugee criteria after three years, as that will only give them another TPV. This is different to the Howard-era TPV 1.

One consequence of TPV 1 was that in 2000 and 2001, many more women and children were arriving on boats to reunite with their partners here on a TPV. The SIEV-X, which sank in October 2001 and resulted in 353 deaths, had a significant number of spouses and dependent children of TPV-holders on board.

By the time the TPV 1 was abolished in August 2008, the ban on other onshore applications had also been removed. This meant that many other onshore visa options became possible, such as a partner visa. Those who married Australian citizens could also apply onshore for a partner visa rather than be forced offshore to apply.

A number of studies by psychologists criticised the serious adverse effects of TPV 1 on the mental health of the refugees.

One report noted that the:

Certainty of residency to persons recognised as refugees seems to be essential for recovery from trauma-related psychiatric symptoms. Families and social groups that are not kept together or reunited maybe at greater risk of prolonged mental disorder.

Under the Abbott government’s new TPV 2, there is no provision made for family reunion. Also, the ability to access further education will be affected by the TPV refugee needing to pay overseas student rates unless exemptions are made. Aside from not being able to get a permanent visa, the other provisions are the same as TPV 1.

The TPV was a key plank in the Coalition’s asylum seeker policy in the lead-up to the election. Previously, the TPV had little – if any – deterrent value, but now it is purely punitive, as it applies to the thousands already in the process of applying for refugee status.


A disallowance motion is set to be moved next week to scrap the reintroduction of TPVs. AAP/Daniel Munoz


Opportunity for reform

Next week, the Greens will move a disallowance motion in the Senate to scrap the TPV legislation. This is not the first time such a disallowance motion has been attempted on TPVs. In 2003, a regulation which required all onshore refugees to be granted a TPV first before a permanent visa was disallowed in the Senate.

If this forthcoming disallowance is successful, it means those already granted a TPV are stuck with it (as the disallowance does not apply retroactively), but others would then be entitled to a permanent visa. If the motion is disallowed, the government cannot reintroduce the substantially same regulation for six months – by which time the new Senate will be set to sit.

Legislation must provide a statement of compatibility with human rights. Remarkably, the explanatory memorandum attached to the reintroduction of TPVs last month states that:

The Statement’s overall assessment is that the Regulation is compatible with human rights because it advances the protection of human rights and to the extent that it may limit human rights, those limitations are reasonable, necessary and proportionate.

How a provision that prevents a refugee from reuniting with their immediate family (who may also be in danger) “advance[s] the protection of human rights” is a complete mystery. It seems that government policy trumps human rights, even of a potentially traumatised population group such as refugees. Not only that, it will further traumatise them by forced separation.

Politically, it is not clear how the new Senate would vote on a disallowance motion. In the meantime, “punish the refugees” remains the policy and the law.

Kerry Murphy is affiliated with the Jesuit Refugee Service, he is a lecturer in the Migration Law program at the Australian National university and he is a partner and accredited specialist in Immigration Law in a Sydney law firm.

Scott fires course record in ‘rollercoaster’ round

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Scott has been on fire on a valedictory tour of his homeland over the last few weeks, winning both the Australian PGA and Masters, and helping his country to hoist the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne last weekend.


The 33-year-old showed no sign of slowing down as he started his fourth event at the Royal Sydney Golf Course on Thursday, grabbing birdies on his first six holes, parring the middle eight and then picking up four shots on his final four holes.

The first streak of birdies had the U.S. Masters champion contemplating the possibility that he might be about to join an even more select group of golfers, those who have shot rounds of 59 in professional tournaments.

“I wasn’t thinking about it hard but I knew it was a possibility. Having birdied the six holes I birdied, I felt like all the opportunities were still to come,” he said.

“So if I kept it going, and I had a good run around the turn, I felt it was on for sure.”

It was not to be, though, and from his seventh hole – the 16th – Scott felt his swing desert him and was soon battling his frustration at being unable to continue his charge.

“It was a beautiful day for golf, I came out hitting great shots and didn’t have much work to do to clean them up in the first five holes and had a nice putt on my sixth hole and I was really rolling at that stage,” he said.


“But I think I’ve gone through a rollercoaster of emotion out there today from cruising after six holes to having to work pretty hard.

“Nothing much was going my way, I missed a green, felt like my swing was leaving me again, it’s just amazing how in 18 holes you can do a 360 degrees of emotion and mood swings and everything.”

Despite his success of the last few weeks, perfectionist Scott said he felt his swing had not been quite “in the slot” and revealed he had discussed his “sloppy” posture on the phone with his coach Brad Malone.

“It’s a bit hard work for me at the moment,” he said. “I still hit some great shots but a few average ones as well. But I got away with the bad ones today with some good saves.”

It was all relative of course, and he continued to nail the four to five foot putts that punctuated his round before catching fire again at the sixth hole, his 15th.

Scott said the strong finish was essential to avoid wasting the opportunity his brilliant start had opened up, but part of him was still left contemplating how low he might have gone.

“I’m thinking about what today could have been, if I was really striking it and lost opportunities,” he said.

Scott nevertheless said it had been one of the “best rounds” of his career, along with the round of 61 he hit to win the Qatar Masters in 2008 and a 62 he shot at the Memorial at Muirfield Village in 2007.

Thursday’s round not only gave him a healthy early lead but also beat the course record of 65 held since the 2008 Australian Open by Stephen Dartnall, Matt Goggins, Ewan Porter, Chris Gaunt and Jason Norris.

(Editing by John O’Brien)

We don’t need two spinners, says Lyon

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Australia don’t need two specialist spinners in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide, according to Nathan Lyon, who says he’s learned plenty since last year’s drawn Test with South Africa at the same ground.


Against the Proteas, Australia had a series-clinching Test victory in their grips – requiring just six wickets on the fifth day at Adelaide Oval.

The scene was tailor-made for offspinner Lyon to be the hero on his former home ground, but instead South African middle-order batsman Faf du Plessis earned the plaudits as he batted for seven-and-a-half hours, accumulating 110 not out, to force a draw.

The result raised questions about Lyon’s match-winning ability – but he says he’s learned and grown from that disappointment.

“I’ve learnt a fair amount playing a few Test matches down there,” said Lyon on Tuesday.

“I’ve learnt a fair amount about my game and what I need to do and what I need to do to get better.

“Fingers crossed there’s a little bit more spin down there and we’ll see how we go.”

And, striking a blow to the hopes of legspinner Fawad Ahmed and rising offspinner Ashton Agar, Lyon said he’s ready to go it alone – almost.

“Steve Smith, Michael Clarke – they’re pretty capable of bowling a few overs,” Lyon said on Thursday.

“In saying that if the bowling group does our job they (part-time spinners) won’t have to bowl.

“I’m more than happy to take on the responsibility of being the No.1 spinner and hopefully get a few overs under my belt.”

Lyon, who sparked English collapses in both innings of the 381-run first Test win at the Gabba, has been dropped on two occasions this year.

Firstly in spin-friendly India he was overlooked for Xavier Doherty, then little-known Ashton Agar was picked for the opening two Ashes Tests in England.

And the pressure will again be on for the 26-year-old to deliver at Adelaide, where he used to be the groundskeeper and has taken 10 wickets at 25 in two Tests.

But it’s a challenge he is embracing.

“I feel confident in my own skill-set to get the job done,” he said.

Lyon said Australia can’t afford to back down from their aggressive tactics because they know England won’t roll over.

“It’s England and it’s a Test match, they’re going to bounce back, we know that,” he said on Thursday.

“Test match cricket is the hardest format going around.

“We’re not expecting anyone to roll over. We know the quality of the England cricket side.

“We’re going to have to stand up … and start that fight again.

“…That’s the way Australia play their best cricket.

“We know where the line is and we don’t step over it.

“We’re going to continue to play aggressive, hard cricket.”

Comment: Chinese appetite for pecans boosting pie prices

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What’s more American than apple pie? Pecan pie.


The world’s first apple tree grew in Asia millennia ago. But the pecan tree is a native American. How appropriate, then, that pecans enjoy a place of honor on the table at Thanksgiving, a deeply homegrown holiday.

But hold the whipped cream. Pecan pie is expensive this year! Where I live in Austin, Texas, pecan pies are clearing $20 each at bakeries around town. In coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, where labor and overhead are higher, a 9-inch pie can set a pilgrim back as much as $34. Even at these prices, bakeries are selling pecan pies at a loss. Why so costly?

The cost of pecans is fully exposed to the economic push and pull of supply and demand — the government doesn’t support pecan prices the way it does sugar prices, for instance. So when the most populous country in the world suddenly developed an insatiable and totally unprecedented hunger for pecans, demand skyrocketed. The price of pecans did, too.

James McWilliams (an occasional Slate contributor) tells the story in his new book, “The Pecan: A History of America’s Native Nut.” The year was 2006, and the scene was a food trade show in Paris. An official from New Mexico’s Department of Agriculture introduced a group of Chinese buyers to pecans, an important crop for that state. “The Chinese cracked them open, sampled them, and were intrigued — so intrigued,” writes McWilliams, “that they traveled to New Mexico to meet growers, tour orchards, and discuss tentative contracts.” At the time, China didn’t import any pecans, and it didn’t (still doesn’t) grow any, either. No one in China ate pecans.

And yet, after only a couple of years and a bit of savvy marketing, a craze for pecans had gripped the Chinese like quinoa in California. Advertisements touted their antioxidants, claiming them capable of extending life and fending off Alzheimer’s. China’s exploding middle class has disposable income and considers the pecan a snack worth splurging on. The Chinese now eat pecans like we eat pistachios — partially shelled and brined, then roasted for extra salty-crunchy goodness.

By 2009 China had gone from not having a word for “pecan” to importing 83 million pounds — a quarter of the U.S. crop. With a public willing to pay between $10 and $15 a pound, importers began actively courting pecan growers in other states, like Georgia and Texas. “In 2005,” writes McWilliams, “pecans were a novelty item in China. Today they can be found, as one newspaper reports, ‘at gas stations, airports, and every grocery store in China.’ “

An old pecan just isn’t as pretty as a fresh pecan, and pretty matters-especially when people are paying more than $20 for a pie.

What does that mean for American pecan growers? Jake Montz planted his first pecan trees in 1987 and now grows some 25,000 trees’ worth on his farm in Wichita Falls, Texas. These days about 25 percent of his crop goes to China. He sells another quarter in his own two nut shops, and the remainder goes to a shelling company that will, in turn, sell the nutmeats to grocery stores and companies that manufacture ice cream and breakfast cereals.

Conditions this year have squeezed his supply even more than usual. Severe drought in Texas has stretched on for three years now, and the pecan trees have suffered. Making matters worse, three late freezes decimated this year’s crop. But he still has to pay his ever-rising costs — fuel, electricity, equipment, labor. Fortunately, high demand both domestically and from China means prices are high. “I’d rather have a big crop and sell them a little cheaper,” says Montz. Unfortunately, that’s not happening this year.

Professional bakers would love for pecans to be a little cheaper, too. In the mid-1990s, my local bakery, Texas French Bread, sold pecan pies for $10 to $12 each ($15 to $18 in today’s dollars). Today, owner Murph Willcott pays more than $11 a pound for the fancy pecan halves that go into pies he can afford to sell only at Thanksgiving. Chopped nuts, usually sold as “pieces,” would be cheaper, but the pies wouldn’t look as nice. “The halves are prettier,” he says, “so we try to use them.” Willcott also values the freshest nuts. Though some bakers use nuts that are a year or two old, he says, “What you want is the one that’s just been shelled, that is really beautiful and perfect. Those are really hard to find at this point.” As a pecan ages, with or without its shell, it loses moisture and thus plumpness. An old pecan just isn’t as pretty as a fresh pecan, and pretty matters — especially when people are paying more than $20 for a pie.

Willcott’s pecan pies will sell for $22 this year, but that won’t cover the cost of making them. “So we’ll eat it on that one,” he says, “and our margin won’t be what we want it to be. But we’ll make them anyway.” Another Austin bakery, Walton’s Fancy and Staple, has addressed pecans’ soaring cost by pricing all its Thanksgiving pies at $22. This way, the lower cost of producing pies made with ingredients that happen to be cheaper — pumpkin, for instance — helps offset the more expensive pecan. But even using this strategy, Walton’s has had to raise prices over the past several years, says culinary director Justin Raiford.

What does the pecan boom mean for people who bake their own pies? In 2008 pecans retailed for $3.50 a pound, according to McWilliams. In 2010 they were up to $6.95. Now, at my local grocery store, I pay $10.99 for pecan halves and $9.99 for pieces. My pecan pie recipe calls for three-quarters of a cup of each.

That means pecans are now the most expensive item when I prorate the prices on my ingredient list. Butter comes next (we use organic), then the corn syrup (don’t judge me before you taste my pie), and maple syrup (Vermont’s a long way away). When I add it all up, I find it will cost me $11.73 to make a pecan pie from scratch. Of course, we’ll have to double that at Thanksgiving. One pecan pie is never enough.

Goulart writes about the geography of food.

Copper pits for NBN a "disgrace": Union

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The union representing Telstra field staff estimates up to 80 per cent of the telco’s “disgraceful” copper-wire network pits have been patched together by plastic bags or ring-barked cables.


It’s the very same copper network NBN Co plans to buy or lease off Telstra for the fibre-to-the-node national broadband network (NBN) being championed by the Abbott government.

“This would be a fraud on the Australian taxpayer,” CEPU NSW assistant secretary Shane Murphy told a Senate hearing on the NBN in Canberra on Thursday.

Mr Murphy said 75 to 80 per cent of Telstra’s copper pits were as rotten as the pictures he brought to the Senate committee, which showed the ageing network being crudely held together by ring-barked cables and covered by plastic bags in a vain attempt to keep water out.

“This is the exact network that will be sitting outside there, tying into the NBN that is built to the node,” he said.

Mr Murphy said the network was in reasonably good condition when Telstra was privatised in the late 1990s.

However, proper maintenance of the network’s copper pits had since disappeared.

“Telstra has been consistently pushing workers to simply get the customer services up and running, band-aiding the network, and moving the employee or contractor quickly onto the next job,” he said.

Telstra would have no idea just how bad things were in the copper pits, Mr Murphy added.

“Workers and contractors are now so frustrated with what they’re working in, and without being given the adequate responsibility to be able to fix it appropriately, they’re not reporting them.”

Mr Murphy said the communications union is about to begin a campaign in a number of electoral seats around the country to highlight the issue.

Earlier on Thursday, the Senate select committees summonsed NBN Co chief Ziggy Switkowski to front a parliamentary inquiry.

Dr Switkowski and other senior NBN executives have said they are reluctant to appear before the committee in person.

The committee has issued a summons requiring their presence at an inquiry hearing in Canberra on Friday.

Committee chair Kate Lundy said on Thursday the summons had been issued with regret, given the government’s public commitment to openness and transparency in matters relating to the NBN.

The Senate has asked the committee to inquire into the government’s reviews of the NBN and the governance of NBN Co.

PM wants Qantas to remain a ‘successful Australian icon’

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But Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says removing foreign ownership restrictions on the airline in parliament would not be “realistically achievable”.


“We don’t think it is realistically achievable in the current parliament,” he said in a statement to staff this morning.

“And the process would be prolonged, during which time Virgin Australia would be free to continue its anti-competitive strategy aimed at crippling Qantas. We simply do not have the time.”

Mr Joyce said Qantas needs more government support to reflect its status as the country’s national carrier. He said compared to other countries, Qantas receives no government concessions and no preferred access to Australian airportss.

“There are a range of policy measures that the government could consider in order to provide a more level playing field for the aviation sector in Australia.

“Qantas looks forward to discussions with the government about potential steps to level the playing field and support the national carrier.”

Earlier today, Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey described foreign ownership rules applied to Qantas more than two decades ago as “regulatory handcuffs”.

The treasurer wants a national debate on whether Australian investors should retain majority ownership of the flying kangaroo, arguing it could restrict the listed carrier’s growth in the long run.

“If Australians want to place regulatory handcuffs on Qantas then we need to accept that that will come at a cost,” Mr Hockey told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

“Frankly, it’s not something that I am willingly prepared to do.”

Mr Hockey first made his views known about the 49 per cent foreign ownership cap at a forum in Sydney on Wednesday, prompting a more than three per cent jump in Qantas’ shares on Thursday.

As at March, foreign investment in Qantas, which has a market value of $2.6 billion, was 39.8 per cent. The majority of this share is held by two US investment groups.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor believes Qantas should stay in Australian hands.

“I believe the national carrier is an important part of Australia’s national security, it’s an important part of Australia’s independence,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Shorten described Mr Hockey’s elevation of the issue as a “thought-bubble”, saying such issues should be discussed in the parliament.

“I would say to the treasurer these are important matters, they are also market sensitive matters,” he added.

However, Mr Hockey said the former Labor government was fully aware of the challenges facing Qantas in a changing and increasingly competitive airline market, but didn’t do anything about it.

“Bill Shorten is more interested in crisis management than crisis aversion,” Mr Hockey said.

“We don’t want to have to come back to deal with this in 12 months or 18 months.”

Independent senator Nick Xenophon is wary of any relaxation of the foreign ownership rule, saying this could make Qantas vulnerable to a private equity or foreign takeover.

“My fear is the Qantas we know today will just become a shadow of itself,” he said.

Labor transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said Qantas made important contributions both domestically and overseas.

“Whenever national governments have needed assistance, Qantas has been there,” he told ABC radio.

The Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA) has also called for the Qantas Sale Act to be changed.

“We are very satisfied to see the treasurer’s comments,” AIPA President Nathan Safe said.

US bid to destroy Syrian chemicals at sea

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The Obama administration is offering to destroy some of Syria’s deadliest chemical weapons in international waters aboard a US government-owned ship, US officials say.


The plan, still subject to final approval, would involve destroying the weapons, likely aboard the MV Cape Ray in the Mediterranean Sea, with US navy warships patrolling nearby.

This approach would avoid the vexing diplomatic, environmental and security problems posed by disposing of the materials on any country’s soil.

The decision to proceed with the chemical disposal plan would be made by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global chemical weapons watchdog agency with 190 member states.

In a statement on Wednesday in the Netherlands, the watchdog agency said the effort to ship Syria’s chemical arsenal out of the country “continues to pose challenges due to the security situation on the ground”.

No country has committed to disposing of the chemical weapons on its own soil, which is why the US offer to destroy the deadliest of the chemical components at sea is seen as a likely option.

The US officials who disclosed aspects of the US portion of the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk about it by name.

The MV Cape Ray would host the destruction of some of the deadliest of Syria’s chemical materials using a process developed by the Pentagon but never employed in an actual operation.

The US would use what it calls a mobile Field Deployable Hydrolysis System to neutralise the chemical material, making it unusable as weapons.

The system was developed by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is an arm of the Pentagon.

The titanium reactor uses heated water and other chemicals to make the chemical warfare material inert.

According to several US officials, two of the hydrolysis units would be mounted on the Cape Ray.

It will take some time to retrofit the ship and conduct training to insure that the process can be done successfully at sea.

As of Wednesday, US officials said they are still trying to determine how the chemical warfare materials would be moved from Syria to the US ship.

They said they expect that another country will provide a ship for that part of the task.

Officials said they expect a final decision soon and the operation would begin by the end of the year.