February 12th, 2009

I’ve been in Cairns for the last few days, at the annual conference of the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society. Although the city hasn’t been much affected by the floods, roads to the south were cut until today, so fruit and vegetables have been in short supply.

The conference opened with an address by Ross Garnaut, who got stuck into the government’s proposals Soldier buy for free permits and exclusions under the proposed ETS. My research group (Risk and Sustainable Management Group) presented a paper on this topic, and a number of others on modelling risk and uncertainty and the complex trade-offs between environmental flows, trees for carbon capture and irrigated agriculture. As well, I presented a paper with Terry Hughes of JCU on the future of the Great Barrier Reef, and gave the after-dinner speech, which I’ve promised to write up and post when I get a free moment. More soon, when I get a free moment or two.

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  1. February 12th, 2009 at 20:36 | #1

    Mate? You could have wandered along The Esplanade to my place where we could have discussed the R&D incentives available to turn stairwell carpet into a biotechnology venture!

  2. jquiggin
    February 12th, 2009 at 23:37 | #2

    I was having dinner on the Esplanade this evening, but I missed this comment

  3. Lesley de Voil
    February 13th, 2009 at 03:58 | #3

    Hi John
    No mouldy stairwells here, 10km further north, but I do have to take exception to your “been in short supply” comment. There is no shortage of tropical fruits and vegetables in Cairns. What’s lacking is the willingness to accept foods that are slightly different, and also to understand that it is highly unnatural to expect to be able to find any and every fruit or vegetable all the year round. I also dutifully followed the cyclone preparedness drill and consequently shopped for staples today for the first time since Christmas!
    This is the first I have heard of the AARES conference. Is there any public event today?

  4. jquiggin
    February 13th, 2009 at 06:39 | #4

    The conference is at the Sebel in Abbott Street, finishing this AM. There aren’t any events officially open to the public, but you could probably just wander into a talk. Hugh Possingham on biodiversity at 10:30 am should be good.

  5. James of FNQ
    February 13th, 2009 at 08:19 | #5

    I agree with Lesley, we have had no trouble finding fresh fruit and vegitables in Mareeba, but most are tropical types. Anyone that lives in a Cyclone area should have sufficient preparation at this time of the year to live without the usual resources and services for a few weeks. The road and rail networks north of Townsville close most years during the wet, the only difference this year was the duration.
    The trouble is the supply model used by the major supermarkets. An example is that bananas grown in the north go south to the state capitals to distribution centres then back again to the stores up here. Lots of food miles to be delt with in this model.

  6. Chris Warren
    February 13th, 2009 at 08:28 | #6

    “Agriculture and resources”?, how bad is the Australian economy. This appears to be a third world outlook. Our future is advanced and human capital development services.

    Agriculture (meat wheat wool) hardly contributes to export earnings these days.

    Resources is not secure as African and South American sources will be developed with the same technology we have – but lower wage costs.

    Services – eg 15 billion education exports – are increasing at a rapid rate, and earn more than all agricultures. Australia has a competitive advantage in services – few people will travel to Africa or South America for surgery, or for quality education.

    If the global financial crisis comes crashing into Australia, I will blame economists and politicians who have been far too eager to extol the virtues of easy earnings for Collins Street from mining.

    But it may be too early to say just yet.

    What was the outlook presented at the Conference, with what trend data?

  7. jquiggin
    February 13th, 2009 at 09:37 | #7

    My reference to shortages was really only reporting what people I met around town were saying. There has certainly been plenty of fresh tropical fruit served at the conference, but the supermarkets have been having problems, maybe reflecting their supply model as James says.

  8. Alanna
    February 13th, 2009 at 09:43 | #8

    JQ#7 Maybe also reflecting the monopsonistic and monopolistic power of the supermarket wholesale and retail industries.

  9. February 13th, 2009 at 18:30 | #9

    The references to shortages in the supermarkets are correct still noticeable today in the city centre Woolies, mostly in meat rather than fruit & veg. Milk is another where supply can be a problem despite the Atherton Tableland dairy, with processing now done down south (i am told?). However, for any visiting dairy addicts the local Mungalli biodynamic unhomogenised product should not be missed!!

  10. James of FNQ
    February 13th, 2009 at 21:33 | #10

    You are right about Mungilli Milk KitchenSlut, takes me back when milk came from cows not dairy whitener factories.

  11. Lesley de Voil
    February 14th, 2009 at 07:41 | #11

    John, Thanks for the headsup re Possingham’s presentation. It was a good day for understanding more about biodiversity. Hugh explained why using the maths in Decision Theory enables rational allocation of resources in conservation.
    In the evening, I was fortunate to attend a forum organised by JCU as part of a Year 12 science students’ two-day workshop. Half a dozen people concerned with the nitty-gritty of regional planning – the Mayor, environmental planners, conservation activists, academics – spoke on “How much biodiversity is enough?” Here some of the next generation of decision-makers discovered how complex the problem is – it’s all very well having Hugh’s maths up one’s sleeve, but convincing enough people, as the Mayor pointed out, is another matter entirely. People don’t always make rational decisions!

  12. Ken
    February 16th, 2009 at 12:01 | #12

    Chris, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that all economic activities should be considered equal – agriculture is essential in ways that other activities aren’t, loss of production having flow on effects that the economic loss of, say, conference centres’ closing in Cairns won’t have. I don’t know how economists deal with the differences between provision of basic essentials and luxury services.

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