JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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Smell that evidence

Following up on the story of the Thompsons.

I protested that vague open ended legislation that allows officials to use opinions rather than empirical evidence is a stepping stone to tyranny, and naturally people had questions about the details. Have the Thompsons been treated unfairly, are the complaints legitimate? Could we tell?

So let’s visit the empirical evidence

This is the record of complaints from the Agricultural College, the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), and the smell tests conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA).

Given all the variables and biases involved, we can’t say much in detail. Humor me. Here’s how I see it:

  1. Cows and complaints don’t correlate. Complaints doubled as the number of cows halved.
  2. The worst smells in town (when the wind is from the right direction) correlate with hot months, but also clearly with less cows.
  3. The Agricultural College says things are so bad that “enrollments are being affected” but no one there thought to complain until mid 2008, and then as cattle numbers fell, apparently people at the college became much more likely to complain, and 2009 was a bumper year for grievances, though cattle numbers were half of what they were back in happy-cheesy-2007. The Ag College complaints spike of Aug 2008 correlate with the lowest cattle numbers for the whole 2.5 year period.
  4. The Shire complaint log for 2006 records only 10 complaints for the entire year, yet stock levels were equivalent to those in 2009 where there were 20-30 “complaints” a month, and this is after the Thompsons implemented all the odour reducing measures that were suggested.

Narrogin Beef:  Odour Complaints and detections (left axis) and Cattle Stocking (right axis)

Looks like the way to reduce smells is to insist the Thompsons keep their stock numbers above 10000 cows because when the cow numbers drop the smells get worse :-) .

Why on Earth would anyone stick so many cows near a town?

You might wonder if putting 10,000 cows five kilometers from a town was a bad idea from the start. I asked Matt Thompson what people did in other places. The answer was that some feedlots are so close to towns there they are practically in the town, and 10,000 cows would rate as a hobby. No Matt didn’t say that exactly, what he said was:

Stratford Feedlot in Texas has 80,000 head about 1.5 miles from town. Cactus Feedlot is virtually in town with 80,000 head. Hart Feedlot 40,000 head, 0.5 miles from town. Heritage Happy, TX 1.5 miles from town, 50,000 head, just to name a few…

Of course, if you Google with one eye you’ll find people who swear those towns smell bad, but there are just as many posts from people who say the opposite, who apparently love their home town and declare that most days you can’t smell a thing. Which is indeed what the detailed tests from Narrogin show. On a scale of 1- 6 (where six is disgusting) most entries were “zero”. Most days it was undetectable.

There are around 700,000 cattle in feedlots in Australia. Matt and Janet’s definitely qualifies as a smaller family run business.

The town wants the Thompsons to operate there

In 2002 when the Thompsons applied to get planning approval from the Shire,  26 submissions were received. If the piggery was so unpopular and unaromatic, surely the townsfolk would have stepped up to say “No thanks”.

(Of the 26 submissions) all but three … were in favour of the proposal. Two submissions, that were in opposition to the cattle feedlot, raised issues of concern about the possible impacts on nearby properties and the increase in heavy truck movements. The third submission asked Council to consider the retention of roadside vegetation.

The meeting was very positive with many people there supporting the development. (From the 2002 council Agenda)

Other conflicts of interest?

One complainant has also applied to have the local area rezoned so she can subdivide her property (Item 59, and to some extent Item 58). I’m sure her complaints are in no way influenced by her desire to profit from the land development that would become much easier if one or two of the local rural industries happened to collapse into bankruptcy. (See item 92 of the council agenda).

Exactly how many complaints was that?

Despite all the documentation its impossible to say how many people in the town are complaining. Janet T says she asked, but as far as she can tell there are only 13 substantiated complaints. Surely, if there were many different people complaining the DEC would add up the numbers and make a point of it?

It’s hard to believe the West Australian government would want to bankrupt a family, destroy 24 rural jobs, and  hurt all the businesses that supply the grain, the water, the trucks, and equipment, just because of, say, 13 people complaining about smells (which have been documentably reduced with the best practices available) and which don’t seem to correlate well to cattle stock levels in any case.

What about other feedlots — are they treated the same way?

Matt and Janet probably don’t want to draw any fire towards other feedlots, so they sidestep specifically mentioning them. But when I asked Janet about the $15,000 they’d had to spend on getting “Odour Assessment” she said that the DEC didn’t suggest anyone to do that assessment, so she had to search, and it ended up being a whole day of phone calls through the Yellow Pages and environmental assessors before finally someone even knew a guy who might be able to help. Which tells us that odor assessments in WA must be pretty rare.  So how serious is DEC in prosecuting feedlots in WA for odor complaints? I really don’t know, but I’d be interested to find out how many $15,000 odour assessments are required.

The bottom line

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some smelly days around a feedlot occasionally, but everyone deals with some impositions. The rest of us in the city live with aircraft noise, traffic pollution, and the odd neighbor with big barking rottweillers. We expect them all to do what they can to make it as nice as possible, but we don’t ask to evict them, and we find some other solution than a campaign of white-anting their livelihood in a tortuous fashion. In the end, you would think people who were happy to live near a piggery shouldn’t be taken too seriously when they complain about smell of the newly-arrived cows?

UPDATE: Matt Thompson has replied in #35 #36

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92 comments to Smell that evidence

  • #

    How about a correlation of smell and/or complaints with the number of lawyers in town or shire?

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    Anthony Watts

    If you were to plot the frequency of complaints per individual (assuming they log the person making the complaint, or maybe not, citing “privacy” concerns, but in a court of law you at least get to face your accuser) I’ll bet you’ll see a tight clustering in the post 2008 period.

    In my town, there’s almost always a predictable group that shows up at city council meetings, they tend to scream the loudest.

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  • #
    Roy Hogue

    When ever something like this unfolds two things always seem to be active.

    1. As Rush (you hate him or you love him) Limbaugh once famously remarked, “Follow the money.”

    2. As I’ve remarked myself, a politician’s first priority is to get reelected. So they count up where their votes are coming from with every decision they make.

    Am I being unfair? I’ll leave you to decide.

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  • #
    Rereke Whaakaro

    I have a few questions (in no particular order – just a brain-storm – to get warmed up):

    Have the Thompson’s ever run a feed-lot before, and if so where, and for how long?

    How many other feed-lots are there in the wider geographical area?

    How is the effluent removed, how often, and to where?

    How is the effluent treated?

    How many complaints were received about smells from the piggery before, during, and after the period in your timeline?

    Can complaints about the piggery (if any) be distinguished from complaints about the feedlot? i.e. is there any way to definitively define the source?

    What other potential sources of smells have been identified, and how were they excluded from further consideration?

    Are the complaints all from people in the same area, or are they disbursed? i.e. are they all they all at the same point of the compass, relative to the feedlot, or are some of them on roads that the supply trucks and stock trucks would likely use?

    Who are the consistent and regular complainants?

    What relationships (if any) do they have with each other, other than this matter?

    Do the complainants meet on a regular, or informal basis, to discuss this matter?

    What connections (if any) does each complainant have with animal rights groups or environmental groups?

    What relationships (if any) does each complainant have with the Agricultural College, DEC or DAFWA?

    And (before Eddy has a chance to point it out), which of the complainants (if any) would stand to gain financially from having this feedlot closed down, and the property being forced onto the market?

    Which parties would stand to gain financially from the progression of this situation, as it has developed?

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  • #
    Treeman

    Jo

    The more I hear about this saga the more apparent the smell of vindictiveness. I’m with Anthony, a predictable group hell bent on destruction would explain the graph. It Looks like we’re winning so let’s up the ante!

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  • #
    Binny

    MattB hit the nail on the head.
    The feedlot and the smell are red herrings. This is about shutting down/shutting up Janet Thompson.
    It may be a small number of bureaucrats or maybe just one senior bureaucrat.
    You can investigate this for ever and you’ll never find anything other than public servants diligently doing their job and operating within their guidelines.
    It only takes one senior bureaucrat to make an observation here, pass an opinion there, and eager to please underlings who know the code. Will swing into action, protected by the vagueness of the guidelines.

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  • #
    Binny

    P.S. Jo why don’t you get Janet and Matt to draw a line on that Grafe showing how active/outspoken they have been against AGW, environmental, and animal rights, groups. I will bet anything that it will correlate more closely to the complaints than the smell.

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  • #
    Bulldust

    Thanks Jo … I think I have seen enough now with this second post to get a pretty clear picture of what is going on. I certainly see some statistics on complaints against businesses and know that most tend to come from a small number of individuals. Also that a business can run similar operations in two different rural communities and have an excellent rapport with people in one, and a crappy reputation in the next. People are unpredictable that way.

    Most of the time the majority of the complaints are coming from a vocal minority, but when they backed up with some savvy advice, for example a Rhodes Scholar lawyer at the EDO, then the target of the complaints is going to have a lot of problems. If the complaint number is important in DEC considerations, then surely the number of complainants should also be a critical determinant in decision making. They shouldn’t be implementing conditions on licences based on what might be complaints from individuals with a personal axe to grind unrelated to the odour.

    @ Rereke:
    While gathering a tonne of information to answer your questions might make for interesting reading, my experience in government is that common sense usually comes to bear in situations like this. You could argue for the next decade about models of wind patterns and environmental conditions that may lead to “odour events” in Narrogin, but after all the debating someone has to make a common sense judgement call. That call is usually made in the civil service, and the politicians sign off on it. It would be an extremely rare event (presumably politically charged) that a Minister rejects advice from the civil servants.

    With the 33 conditions that were applied I really only have one question… is this typical for a feedlot, or was this one singled out for special attention, and, if so, then we get to the question of why? This is where the Ombudsman’s Office might be useful. If they have already assessed there was no irregularity then I am not sure where you would go, but could find out. Which avenues of appeal have the Thompson’s exhausted?

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  • #
    wes george

    A few admittedly cursory deductions and a point on Social Justice:

    1. There could be a real scent issue, although the source – piggery, cattle yards, other or some combination thereof can’t be parsed from the graph. However, we’ll never know for sure because the only thing the graph unequivocally reveals is the effectiveness of EDO’s evangelicalism in creating public disaffection resulting in a kind of mass hysteria.

    2. The graft begs the question: Why were there no odour complaints between the inception of the cattle yards in 2004 and 2007? If the operation of the cattle yard (and the piggery) remained a relative constant between 2004 and 2009 then the change in odours must have occurred in the noses (or more likely the minds) of the beholders. EDO social agitation tactics should be scrutinized and brought to account.

    3. The increase in complaints in the second half of the graph as cattle numbers significantly declined is a classic example of “herd morality” in human societies. It’s the sort of psychology that once worked to bring out the whole village for a public hanging in Old England and still makes for high attendance at stonings in the backwaters of our planet. Note, in particular, how the impressionable youth of the town seem most susceptible to social agitation as made evident by the unexplained surge in later day Ag College complaints even as the number of cattle dramatically declined. Classic.

    4. The question of Social Justice: Cattle yards don’t smell like daisies. This is a fact of life in all rural communities and one which the good government and people of Narrogin understood when they welcomed the economic benefits of the yard in 2003.

    Should the townies and the government agencies involved now decide at this late date they no longer wish to have a cattle yard in this location it is morally and ethically incumbent upon them to buy the yard out at the pre-mass hysterical market value adjusted to 2010 as well as fund relocation costs and lost income to the yard’s owners and effected employees. Anything less is a travesty of natural justice. Perhaps the EDO is most financial liable having wilfully (and perhaps maliciously?) evangelised otherwise content citizens to file writs and complaints against businesses.

    There is a lesson for Australia on societal serenity in this graft.

    The small nation of Bhutan has a socioeconomic indicator they call Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) Obviously, there are empirical problems in measuring happiness. However, in a society that places value on the equanimity of its citizenry, the social agitation tactics of EDO would be seen for what it is, miscreant evangelicalism.

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  • #
    Louis Hissink

    I just wonder who their competitors are, if any – or whether some real estate developer wants their land for other purposes. This smells very much like trying to shut a business down by bureaucratic attrition to benefit someone else. More to this than simply a pong in the air.

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  • #
    Bulldust

    BTW completely off topic, but for a bit of humour see:

    http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/comedy/why-chainsaw-gillards-a-bit-sexy-20100709-103jw.html?autostart=1

    Amanda Bishop could be our equivalent of Tina Fey in terms of immitating our leading lady in politics. She has the voice and mannerisms down pat… hope we see a bit of her going into the elections.

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  • #
    Another Ian

    Re Bulldust #8

    I’m afraid it appears these days that there has been a concerted effort to cull common sense from government decision making. It does still exist but is usually well camouflaged

    Have a listen to the title track on John Prine’s album “Common Sense” (Atlantic Records SD18127)with its refrain of

    “It don’t make no sense that common sense don’t make no sense no more”

    A contender for the anthem of the early 21st century?

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  • #
    Rereke Whaakaro

    Bulldust: #8

    While gathering a tonne of information to answer your questions might make for interesting reading, my experience in government is that common sense usually comes to bear in situations like this.

    I agree.

    The points I was trying to make in behind the questions were:

    1 – 4: Are the Thompsons experienced? I own a farm – breading Angus cattle. I knew nothing about farming when I bought the place, and know even less now. Later-life experience doesn’t teach you anything, except how much you have never known. :-)

    5 – 7: How has the authority determined that the problem comes from the Thompsons? Or are they just counting complaints that just happen to name the Thompsons? Jo’s data would indicate that they have not, and cannot show definitively that the Thompsons are at fault.

    8: Are the complaints generated by the increase in heavy road traffic, rather than smell? (This might explain the apparent correlation anomaly in Jo’s data)

    9 – 13: Is the opposition organised and orchestrating a campaign? Is it five people, complaining twenty times each, because one person has asked them to, or 100 individual and spontaneous complaints? From Jo’s narrative, I would surmise that some “organising factors” are at play.

    14 – 15: The usual “follow-the-money” line.

    There is a parallel between this situation and that of a Christchurch NZ property developer, who managed to “annoy” one lowly placed bureaucrat. I won’t go into that case here (see the Movie “We are here to help” for further information), but the point is that even one person (not even in authority) with a nose out of joint can create havoc, and ruin a life (or two in this case).

    As others have mentioned, bureaucrats are extremely powerful precisely because they are nameless, faceless, and therefore unaccountable. All you can do is take each piece of “evidence” that has been presented and show each to be fallacious, and therefore without merit in arriving at a decision.

    If you are going to seek help from the Ombudsman’s office, or from an opposition politician who wants to make a name for themselves, you have got to get the evidence to make it happen.

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  • #
    Bulldust

    Another Ian @ 12:
    I have to concur… there is turnover happening at my department in which all the people with experience are being overlooked and/or encouraged to retire. We are losing a metric craptonne of corporate knowledge on top of the 60% turnover that occured during the boom years. Meanwhile all high level positions are being filled by people external to the agency, mostly with little relevant industry experience.

    I shalln’t say more, but I haven’t painted the worst of the picture by a long stretch.

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  • #
    Bulldust

    I think the Ombudsman’s Office has plenty to go on in this case Rereke. They send their investigators into government offices and have to be presented relevant files. They ascertain if everything was by the book. Unfortunately if the book is sufficiently flexible to allow a range of 8 to 33 conditions for equivalent operations then there is an issue with the regulatory system itself. It would seem there is way too much discretion at the regulatory stage IMO.

    As for the Thompson’s, if you read Janet’s replies in the previous thread, I think you’ll agree that they were experienced and using very good, if not best, practices.

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  • #
    LINDA

    JO
    Unmentioned and out of curiosity, where there any MOUs memoranders of understanding between education and bussiness of an enviromental nature, that may have affected the increase of complaints. I have found on the outskirts of suburbia WA, that when councils do MOUs with unis and conservation groups, private property owners pay a massive price .

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  • #

    Seems typical of any input from the bureacracy and NGO,s. I would swap our (in Broome) sewage treatment ponds almost in the middle of town with a feedlot any day.

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  • #

    Have the Thompson’s ever run a feed-lot before, and if so where, and for how long?

    Yes. Matt bought his experience from Texas. He identified that WA has lots of grain and not many feedlots, and he and Janet had always wanted to come to Australia.

    How many other feed-lots are there in the wider geographical area?

    I asked Janet the same thing, she wrote:
    Our feedlot IS unusual in WA. It’s one of the few planned (probably the only one) and approved before it existed. It’s also one of the few that contains runoff, has compacted soils, a retention pond, high-tech computer systems to track manure levels and pen cleaning activities, and an on-site worm farm. It’s the only one I know of that is licenced. Many are not even registered. If you have over 500 animals in one location, you are required to go through the licencing or registration process.

    Our feedlot would be one of the largest at 10,000 head capacity. One at Three Springs claims a 12,000 head capacity. Most in the state are no more than 5,000 head, and most are set up on farms which started them to take advantage of their own crop production by value adding on-site.

    How is the effluent removed, how often, and to where?
    How is the effluent treated?

    I know they have a state of the art worm farm, and also increased the removal of manure as part of their efforts to respond to complaints.

    How many complaints were received about smells from the piggery before, during, and after the period in your timeline?

    I don’t know the exact answer. Matt and Janet literally look over the piggery next door which hs been there for 28 years with up to 12,000 pigs. There were complaints about the piggery before 2000, but they shifted to the beef feedlot.

    Can complaints about the piggery (if any) be distinguished from complaints about the feedlot? i.e. is there any way to definitively define the source? What other potential sources of smells have been identified, and how were they excluded from further consideration?

    Wind direction does suggest that the main sources of odours are from the S-SW (which is both the piggery and the feedlot). But recall, most days no smell was even detectable, let along a problem.

    Are the complaints all from people in the same area, or are they disbursed? i.e. are they all they all at the same point of the compass, relative to the feedlot, or are some of them on roads that the supply trucks and stock trucks would likely use?
    Who are the consistent and regular complainants?
    What relationships (if any) do they have with each other, other than this matter?
    Do the complainants meet on a regular, or informal basis, to discuss this matter? What connections (if any) does each complainant have with animal rights groups or environmental groups?

    There is a group called NEAT – Narrogin Environmental Action Team, advised and helped by the EDO (an NGO) which is funded by the government.

    Complaints were only made to the shire prior to the DEC becoming involved in 2007:

    15 in 2002

    23 in 2003 (First cattle arrived in June 2003)

    5 in 2004

    18 in 2005

    10 in 2006 (cattle grew from 5,000 – 10,000 in Dec 06)

    35 in 2007 (numbers peaked in April @ 12k, Matt spoke out as a skeptic in May 07)

    Unfortunately I don’t have a monthly breakdown on the complaints. Matt says the emails from the DEC increased dramatically after May.

    What relationships (if any) does each complainant have with the Agricultural College, DEC or DAFWA?

    And (before Eddy has a chance to point it out), which of the complainants (if any) would stand to gain financially from having this feedlot closed down, and the property being forced onto the market?

    There are two or maybe three residents whose property values would increase, at least two of these have discussed subdivision with the council, both of whom complain about the smell. I gather that they bought their properties after the piggery was established which would mean they bought cheaper properties due to that. No I can’t confirm their dates of purchase.

    Which parties would stand to gain financially from the progression of this situation, as it has developed?

    There are quite a few. As well as property developers, there are competing feedlots who might see the firesale of the Thompsons as a fabulous deal. They could come in and pick\ up the capital investment there cheaply…

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  • #
    Richard

    It would be a tragedy if the Thompsons lost the farm after all the work they have done with the approvals in place. It would be an even bigger tragedy if another feedlot owner came in and bought it cheap with all the infrastructure in place. The town would still have it’s feedlot, they would employ some locals and eventually as it was proven to be a low smell process the numbers of cows allowed would increase. Too late for the Thompsons. Put the approvals back in place, let the banks and council agree to allow the Thompsons to trade their way out of difficulties and prove the case for the benefits of a feedlot. I’m sure the town would benefit in the long run and the creditors would get their money back. Win win instead of lose lose. Is that too hard a concept for some people?

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  • #
    Rereke Whaakaro

    Joanne Nova: #18

    Thank you Jo.

    I would find it hard to show a correlation between stock numbers and complaints from the data in your graph (even allowing for time lags, et cetera),

    So, it would appear that the complaints about smell are driven by something other than the number of stock on hand. Smell is just a convenient proxy for something else.

    In inner city locations, noise is the proxy of choice. I guess in rural Australia the proxy of choice will be either smell or runoff, and you have addressed the runoff question with your answer to my query about effluent.

    Something you might want to consider would be truck movements. If the volume of traffic on some rural roads has increased significantly, with big truck-trailer units bringing feed in, and stock in and out, then that may be the underlying cause – if somebody was concerned about an increase in heavy traffic, on a rural road, when their children were walking to and from school …?

    Pure supposition on my part of course, but the principle is sound. In my experience, these things are never about the subject of the complaint. The complaint is always determined by whatever is the easiest sanction to apply. Smell is good – it is so subjective, and the source so ill-defined.

    It is interesting that the number of complaints about the piggery went down when a new focus of attention appeared. The weapon of choice was simply re-aimed at a new target.

    My advice would be to find the underlying social concern and get that addressed, then try to get the debate reopened to get the decisions reversed – not easy, but it has been known.

    Just trying to help …

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  • #
    Another Ian

    Re Bulldust #14

    Been there,

    seen that,

    didn’t get a T-shirt

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  • #
    Girma

    DISPROVING IPCC’S MAN MADE GLOBAL WARMING

    FIRST IPCC CLAIM:

    Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-understanding-and.html

    Data: Rate of global warming of about 0.15 deg C per decade from 1970 to 2000 (i.e after “mid-20th century”) was identical to that from 1910 to 1940 (i.e before “mid-20th century”)

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1910/to:1940/compress:12/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1910/to:1940/trend/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1970/to:2000/compress:12/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1970/to:2000/trend

    Conclusion: IPCC’s man made global warming is WRONG

    ——————
    SECOND IPCC CLAIM:

    For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected.

    http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

    Data: Rate of global warming from 2000 to 2010 is only 0.03 deg C per decade, only 1/6th the exaggerated value of 0.2 deg C per decade of the IPCC.

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1990/to:2000/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:1990/to:2000/trend/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:2000/to:2010/plot/hadcrut3vgl/from:2000/to:2010/trend

    Conclusion: IPCC’s accelerated global warming is WRONG.

    Summary: According to the data, the effect of human emission of CO2 on global mean temperature is nil.

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  • #
    MattB

    DEC don’t judge on complaints. Complaints may trigger the DEC to get interested, and unfortunately once interested well if you are over the guidelines then you get pinged. Very similar to noise… Complaints can only shut you down if the complaints lead an investigation to discover you are over the regs. It looks like a case where they’d have been better had the DEC required a more formal level of impact assessment at the start, as that would have lead to understood and agreed odour levels from the start.

    On the graphs above – we are all human… again on noise, we’ve all had noisy neighbours, and they are noisy 3 times a week, you wear it for a while, then you snap and make a complaint, well your threshold is broken and you complain more often even if it may get a bit quieter. And if the complaint leads to a health officer checking you out who finds you are over the noise levels then they do something about it.

    Just saying that I’m not surprised the # complaints does not track the # of cows.

    Incidentally I’ve often lamented that enviro health officers have such powerful legislative tools compared to my line of work.

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  • #
    Waylander

    Going by the distribution of complaints it certainly looks like Someone`s got an agenda here . The sudden and sustained increase in complaints from the agricultural college makes me wonder if there`s been a campaign banging on in the collective ears of the young and impressionables at the college . I would hope that it wouldn`t be the teachers doing the complaining as You would think that someone qualified to teach Agricultural Sciences would not come over all faint and swoon at the smell of a bit of cow poo in a rural township .

    There`s certainly something seriously on the nose here and it`s not Matt and Janet`s feedlot

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  • #

    Yes Mattb, I take this all with a grain of salt. People might put up with smells and not complain until there was a license due, which would look exactly the same as if there were sudden organised campaigns with ring-arounds and exaggerated claims. Who knows? Winds can swing from one month to the next, and that would also change the complaints. That’s my point. We don’t convict people in trials without reasonable evidence, but it’s apparently possible to bankrupt them unless they prove they are not causing offense, which is open to corruption. A business should not be subjected to this kind of uncertainty in government.

    This chart, with my addition of the white arrow comes from the appeals convenors report June 2010.

    And no, by marking in the annotated point that Matt T spoke out as a skeptic in May 07 I’m not suggesting that’s the only reason or the main behind anything, but the other factors are continuous, I can’t stick an arrow on them. In any case, second guessing people’s motives is unknowable speculation. For what it’s worth, the chart shows things that are documented. I don’t know exactly what “substantiated complaints” means.

    In the end, do we want to live in a society where it takes 12 months to get a Works Approval which doesn’t guarantee that even a law abiding and profitable business can operate a mere 8 years later, and where appeals to licenses take up to 75% of the entire license period. In these societies the bureaucrats are in charge, and the productive workers forever servant to their whims and schedules.

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  • #
    Frank Brown

    A couple of dozen complaints…not much of a consensus. We get more complains every month in our hamlet for (pick one) dogs, cats, children, cars, bikes, old codgers, young folks, joggers, walkers, buses…. It’s got to be the usual political bs.

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    Richard

    The more facts that come out about the way the Thompsons were treated the more I know that the real smell is the stench of BS and beaurocracy. There needs to be a new appeal for them surely. This flies in the face of being un-Australian more than any other current issue.

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    Bulldust

    Something that stinks as much… another meaningless AGW piece in the SMH:

    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/australia-in-denial-over-greenhouse-20100711-105ha.html

    Hardly worthy of note because it is pure rhetoric.

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    MattB

    I’m also wondering if the low stock numbers every Oct/Nov coincide with scheduled annual maintenance/clean up which generates quite a bit of smell. Maybe trucking animals in and out (we know how bad the Freo sheep trucks smell).

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    Owen Morgan

    When you first ran this story, it rang a bell, because of the enthusiasm with which taxpayer-funded bodies helped to organise the campaign against the Thompsons. This article tells of very similar cases in the United States. In many instances, the cases that are brought fail, but only after farmers have had to find huge amounts of money in legal costs. The invincibly self-righteous environmentalists can bring as many cases as they like, in the knowledge that their costs will always be met by the unwitting taxpayer. “Cui bono?” the lawyers like to ask. In all these cases, especially the Thompsons’, the principal beneficiaries seem to be the lawyers themselves, although I dare say that the environmentalists involved also manage to scrabble up a rung or two of some disreputable professional ladder, by being able to cite their involvement in such actions.

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    janama

    Apparently the piggery owners worked with the local shire to put in place measures to stop the odours. A quick look at the google maps will clearly show extensive windrow plantings. It’s like a maze of wind breaks all established to the N – NE of the piggery so the SW winds are blocked from blowing to the town. I see no such additions to the feedlot.

    http://users.tpg.com.au/johnsay1/Stuff/feedlot_1.jpg

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    allen mcmahon

    Matt@30
    Low numbers in Oct/Nov follow peak sales times. Trucking is generally not a problem as cattle are are confined to yards without food for 24 hours so there is not a problem with excrement/smell during transit. Location can be an issue. Our properties are in two council areas we have no problem with one and major problems with the other. Where we have difficulties I don’t blame the council staff because every decision they make is scrutinized and often opposed by property developers and environmental activists.

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    From my extensive and detailed exposure to departmental sleaze I am bound to conclude that the highest probability scenario would have involved a DEC officer having a private chat with the local activists advising them to lodge complaints and on what kind of terms to use. This kind of stuff is now standard operating procedure in planning and environment departments all over the country. And it is not conjecture on my part. I heard it first hand from a person who thought I could be trusted with the information. This person, who regularly drafted ‘objections-to-order’ on behalf of a local enviro-front was not even an Australian citizen. The planning departments of local councils do not check to see if the complainant is even a permanent resident of the house he claims to live in, let alone have the right to live and vote in this country. None of the planning legislation anywhere in the country (to my knowledge) defines who would qualify, or not qualify, as a legitimate complainant. It is entirely open slather, backpackers, passing campers, children, and all sorts of transient planet saviours can, and do, lodge objections that have a very major impact on the rights, liberties and lives of ordinary local folk just making the best of what they have. Yes, folks, Australia has become that sort of country and Australians have become that sort of people.

    By the way, do the residences of the complainants actually reconcile with the wind rose? For both direction and wind speed?

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    janama:
    July 12th, 2010 at 1:37 pm
    Apparently the piggery owners worked with the local shire to put in place measures to stop the odours. A quick look at the google maps will clearly show extensive windrow plantings. It’s like a maze of wind breaks all established to the N – NE of the piggery so the SW winds are blocked from blowing to the town. I see no such additions to the feedlot.

    Janama,
    The piggeries trees were planted 15 years before ours. Because they were bigger at the time, they show up in that old picture. If you had a current google picture, you could see our trees. Not that trees actually stop pig odours.

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    MattB:
    July 11th, 2010 at 9:15 pm
    DEC don’t judge on complaints. Complaints may trigger the DEC to get interested, and unfortunately once interested well if you are over the guidelines then you get pinged. Very similar to noise… Complaints can only shut you down if the complaints lead an investigation to discover you are over the regs. It looks like a case where they’d have been better had the DEC required a more formal level of impact assessment at the start, as that would have lead to understood and agreed odour levels from the start.

    On the graphs above – we are all human… again on noise, we’ve all had noisy neighbours, and they are noisy 3 times a week, you wear it for a while, then you snap and make a complaint, well your threshold is broken and you complain more often even if it may get a bit quieter. And if the complaint leads to a health officer checking you out who finds you are over the noise levels then they do something about it.

    Just saying that I’m not surprised the # complaints does not track the # of cows.

    Incidentally I’ve often lamented that enviro health officers have such powerful legislative tools compared to my line of work.

    Matt B.

    There is no evidence of non compliance, nor was there ever any valid investigation of a single complaint. There are no environmental field notices other that one for our fuel tank which was resolved. A high level DEC official told us that they eventually got Al Capone on tax evasion, implying that they would get us someday. They spent hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars in the attempt, but never found any evidence of wrong doing on our part. We had excellent management systems, and we are certainly not Al Capone. We haven’t murdered anyone, but rather did exactly what we said we were going to do when we got the approvals.

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    janama

    Thanks Matt for that info – yes you are right – old Google images are not the way to look at this – my apologies.

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    MattB

    Well Matt if I take you at your word in #36 then indeed, as I’ve stated before, I think you’ve suffered considerable injustice.

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    Bulldust

    Either way you look at it… there is a big difference between a slap on the wrist for an exceedence every now and then and the increase in licence conditions from 8 to 33. There is no way in any sane universe that this should occur. There is far more going on here than a simple adjustment for an exceedence here and there*.

    * I am making the assumption that DEC has measured an exceedence of some environmental standard here.

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    Bulldust

    Whoops misread your post Matt… well that clears up the * then.

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    Bulldust

    PS> Too many Matt’s here… does Matt Thompson post as well?

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    Bulldust, yes – Matt in #35 #36 is Matt Thompson. I’ve fixed the internal quotes so the comments are easier to read. This is what I found with all my questions of Matt and Janet, they always have reasonable answers. The only thing I could ever fault them for was being being a bit naive. (And there but for the grace of …) If a department issued me with a license incorrectly for 6k or 8k, and verbally told me it was 10k, would I have insisted they put that in writing? Maybe not. But I would now (and I’ll bet Matt and Janet would too). Nullis in Verba…

    Matt and Janet applied through all the right channels, complied with everything they could and our bureaucrats have broken their implicit side of the bargain. We must not let the cancerous growth of Big Government get away with this.

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    Bulldust

    Thanks Jo… I was trying to figure out if Matt was Matt Thompson or not… all good.

    From personal experience I have had incidental contact with the odd victim internally whom has had the pleasure of trying to work on the drive to streamline the approvals systems across government. It is a thankless task and invariably results in little change unless the stick of authority is also granted, which it never is. Even if it were the individual wielding it would rapidly hit resistance in most departments if they were wielding it often and/or unwisely. So we end up with a system in which certain departments can effectively scuttle projects if they stand on the hose.

    The savvy operators tend to build good relationships across key personnel in the relevant departments, so that when a project hits a snag, they know how to go about facilitating a positive resolution. Sadly, and as I mentioned in a previous post, our department is losing many of its savvy operators. Almost all the knowledge I pick up on the job is earned through osmosis and relatively slowly. There is no quick way to achieve the knowledge.

    So as for the cancerous growth… not sure that we can fix it internally, even assuming civil servants would want to take on the task. It will probably take a bit of media coverage to spur Ministers into action.

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    Thanks again for all the honest discussion. How refreshing to be able to discuss on a forum such as this, rather than having to re-tell our story time and again. It takes a lot of time (and frustration) doing it that way. :-)

    As for the licence up to 10k, we did insist (several times) that they put it in writing, but we had no way to make it happen…and it never did. What were we to do?

    When they cracked down on us in 2007, they sent us a letter saying we were not to construct any more, and we were not to hold over 10,000 head. That was the first time they stated 10k in writing.

    The main point is this: Even if we were doing something wrong, surely DEC should have had to go through due process, as they did with the bunding around our fuel tanks (when they issued an Environmental Field Notice).

    How could they possibly cause our demise without ever showing that we broke rules or intentionally polluted? If honest problems are encountered, surely business operators should be allowed to work through any real or percieved problems while operating. (Excepting some obvious true environmental disaster that would be exacerbated by continuing operations.)

    What has happened to us is the equivalent of debtor’s prisons. They put us in jail, ensuring that we could never remedy the (supposed) problem.

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    Of all the comments, the one that hit me was Jos “there but for the grace of….”

    Janet, Matt. Other than highlighting your situation with our representatives, is there anything we can do to help?

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    Ralph

    This situation reeks of external interference. I agree with comment #16 from Linda, and others, which carries a message of environmental activists at work. It is absolute stupidity to prohibit farming in a rural farming area a hundred kilometres from suburbia and after having met current bureaucratic regulations.
    What do they expect to smell roses or daffodils? If so they should relocate to be adjacent to a nursery. It is a deplorable and offensive act by local and state governments to approve then restrict its operation. They must be held responsible for reimbursement of the full amount of the Thompsons’ expenditure and adequate compensation. They have succumbed to doubtful complaints of local residents who appear to be directed by powerful objectors to this type of farming. With ever increasing environmental restrictions on farming who is going to feed the worlds unmanageable population explosion?
    As for complaints of smell from an Agricultural College lord help us.

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    Another Ian

    I understand that enrolements in courses agricultural across Australia have been declining.

    So I wonder how they’re going at this one?

    And if they’re going down, what reasons were advanced in situation reports?

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    As for the licence up to 10k, we did insist (several times) that they put it in writing, but we had no way to make it happen…and it never did. What were we to do?

    See?! See what I mean.
    Every time I ask Janet or Matt a question, they have a good answer. Typical ;-)

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    Henry chance

    I will don my psychologist hat for a moment. Every time we see a new patient, the over riding question is;
    “What is the presenting problem”?

    Since man has started eating meat, man has encountered animals doing their business whenever and whereever they wanted to.

    This article extensively asks a lot of the wrong questions.

    A cow can be drinking water from a pond and the cousin a few feet away doesn’t ask”Excuse me, mind if I use the bathroom in the pond?”

    Animals do not have personal hygeine at this level. It has been proven we have reason to believe animals poopped in the open air and it stank from the beginning of bacteria and it also draws flies.

    It is unreasonable to live in farm country and expect neighbors to perform farming activities and those activities not to smell. People are very willing to keep pets that also stink.
    An strong over riding question is:

    “If you can’t handle farm odours, why don’t you move out of the country?”

    We have many high rise appartment buildings that work very well for people that find the country air to trigger their nose in the wrong way.

    We drive down the road and find skunks that have been hit. They stink and we expect them to. We have ways to discourage their moving to the city.

    These whining neighbors may well be bed wetting greenie weenies. They want to rule nature.

    Significant correct question #2
    Have you considered living in the city?

    The problem party is the whiners. Not the cattle.

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    Binny

    I think the reference to Al Capone says it all they couldn’t actually find any evidence of wrongdoing on the Thompsons part. So in the end they used the bureaucratic process to bankrupt them.
    The reference to Al Capone also indicates that at least the official who made the reference consider the Thomsons to be criminals.
    So let’s list their crimes.

    1 involved in intensive animal production’ factory farming’: check
    2 operating a state-of-the-art facility so there is no ‘hold’ over them : check
    3 speaking out against AGW and animal activists: check

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    Binny

    Accidentally hit the submit button then

    4 speaking out against AGW and animal activists with an American accent: double check

    Knowing the intelligentsia and closet activists who inhabit the public service. If Matt nd Janet speak with a Midwestern or Southern accent they are lucky they hav’nt been burnt at the stake. But I suppose what happened is the modern equivalent of that.

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    Dean Turner

    This is a pretty pointless argument going on here. After reading the article and most of the comments, I can’t really see why the Thompson’s should have ever been allowed to build their farm so close to the town in the first place. Maybe the council regrets it’s decision to allow the farm, given the increasing number of complaints?

    Looking at graphs of the number of complaints vs number of cows is not much use. The fact is, cows (and pigs) SMELL REALLY REALLY BAD. On the days that the wind carries over the smell, it’s absolutely appalling. A small piggery near me with only about 20 animals can usually be smelt for a radius of about 500m, depending on the wind direction. I can only imagine the vile stink from 10,000 cows or 12,000 pigs!

    The logical thing to do here would be to relocate the farm at the council’s expense. They allowed the farm knowing what was at stake. The farm is too close to a population centre.

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    Bulldust

    Dean… I think the problem is not the farm in a country setting. I think the complainants need relocating to Perth suburbia. They are obviously not happy living with country smells. I think they are the ones that need moving to a non-rural setting.

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    Dean, you’ve rendered an opinion. Some people think perfume smells really, really bad. I happen to like the natural smell of manure and knowing that we’re using it to increase productivity within the circle of life. It’s exciting to be involved in production agriculture.

    The local council should not have to relocate us. They have been supportive, as they are reflecting the vast majority opinion of their constituents. It is DEC that has not allowed us to operate. There are three options available to the Department:

    1. Prove that we’ve done something wrong,
    2. Allow us to operate, or
    3. Compensate us if they cannot do either 1 or 2.

    Thanks,
    Janet

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    I just caught up on comments on Anthony Watts’ site. One helpful commenter suggested that “the Thompsons approach it as a case of discrimination and appeal to the government authority that deals with such.”

    I think it’s very important for people to realise that we have NO independent appeals tribunal for environmental issues in Western Australia. We have just gone through another “appeals convenor” process. The Appeals Convenor is part of the DEC, and he sat in our house and told us that he thought we were right on some things, but that he would not go against the Department. It is Caesar investigating Caesar.

    And then, our elected Minister for Environment (the single, solitary person who stands between citizens and the monstrosity of departmental bureaucracy), implemented verbatim what the Appeals Convenor recommended.

    If one positive thing comes from our horrific story, please let it be the establishment of an independent investigator into complaints against DEC.

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    Bulldust

    Janet, I mayhave missed the comment somewhere, but had you talked to the Onbudsman’s Office at all?

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    Janet and Matt, you need to draw some kind of income while this issue is resolved. So perhaps you could take up a bit of intensive organic farming on a paddock closest to both the town and the college. Check the season when the winds are most ‘favourable’ and apply a very liberal dose of blood and bone fertiliser. It is really good for your soil, you know, and what greenie worth his curried lentil farts could possibly object to this time proven aspect of sustainable agriculture?

    My dentist runs his practise from an ordinary suburban house. When he first sought approval for this material change of use one of his new neighbours called him to object in person. My dentist then explained to him that as he had already bought the building his only alternative to operating a dental practise was to use it as a rental property. The complainant didn’t seem to be worried about this at all until he was reminded of the very real probability that it might be rented to a bunch of Maori or Bikies, who could be quite capable of adding the entire boundary fence to a backyard bonfire in a single night. After which point the objections failed to materialise.

    So the lesson is, guys, this smell is only a problem if the alternative to that smell is not a whole lot worse. The evidence is quite clear that you are being persecuted by venal scum so why play their game on their terms? Why allow gutless low life the luxury of zero consequences? They have already trashed the social contract so why do you continue to uphold your moral obligations to them?

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    Dean, check out this link. Look at how an investigation got people in the town to record the smells day after day for months, and almost every day – three times a day – all the people recording it couldn’t smell the piggery or the cattle farm at all. ZERO smell. Not just a minor nuisance, it was undetectable.

    Don’t tell me their farm smells vile. Look at the evidence.

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    There are loads of other activities that would be entirely consistent with your lawful uses. The bottom paddock might prove to be a very good adventure playground for trail bike riders and 4WD enthusiasts who are always on the lookout for new sites. If you charge them a fee you might need council approval but if you just get in touch with a city based bike group and let them use it for free then those restful Sunday afternoons will be a thing of the past. Cover your public liability butt with a big “keep out” sign but just never get around to fixing the broken fence that allows them to enter the premises, without your appoval, of course. And with an influx of people like that, who knows what sort of things will go wrong? Camp fires can get away, all night parties can go down during exam week, and nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, pierces the still night air like a good Doof Party.

    I find that people who are victims of persecution are generally under very considerable stress. As Colonel Sam Slade said, in The Scent of a Woman, “there are few wounds more fearful than an amputated spirit”. So it is vitally important that victims achieve some sort of small emotional victories along the way to keep their spirits up. The time proven ‘urine in the stew’ trick has preserved the sanity and restored the wounded pride of persecuted servants for eons.
    Carpe diem, guys, carpe diem.

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    Bulldust, yes, we filed a complaint with the Ombudsman last September. But we are not at all hopeful of the outcome. There has been no real investigation (at least of our side of the story!), and it appears they are just biding their time so that they can say they investigated over a 12-month period. I hope I’m wrong about that, but signs have not been encouraging.

    Cheers,
    Janet

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    janama

    Janet – have you contacted Wilson Tuckey?

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    Janama, Wilson Tuckey has been an absolute champion for us. Even though he is a Federal Member, and this is a state issue, he quickly ascertained the crux of our situation and has been publicly supportive of us. He and his staff have done many things to help, and we are very appreciative. I believe that if he had not been involved since 18 months ago (when the division boundaries changed), we would be gone already.

    We need more politicians who don’t use the words, “I just have to be careful.” Remember, it’s thanks to Wilson Tuckey that we do not have a CPRS at this point in time. The man is a legend!

    :-) Janet

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    Bernd Felsche

    The late Richard P. Feynman (*) observed in his contribution to the Challenger Disaster Inquiry (aka Rogers Inquiry) that everybody from lower management levels up in a large, long-lived organization isn’t interested in hearing about problems. Problems make the managers and executives look bad. It is better that problems aren’t communicated to them and the newbie underlings quickly get the message… so systemic problems aren’t reported and cannot be remedied. Instead, they fester. With perhaps catastrophic consequences.

    If higher management doesn’t getto hear about the problems, then theyover-estimate the corporate capability. It’s manure for their own “God complex”.

    If the lower ranks aren’t communicating problems, then a white-wash is all the more easy. There may be a few sacrificial goats, but large organizations tend to be able to reward those insisting not to know at higher levels even if there is a disaster.

    The situation is aggravated if the organizations focus if politically diluted and diverted.

    (*) I’ve been reading some of “What do you care what other people think” – stories by Richard P. Feynman as told to Ralph Leyton; on a flight back from Adelaide. ISBN 978-0-141-03088-3. I’d have gladly read it all but it is a fairly short flight.

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    My dad was a very proud Aussie but never lived there after the age of two. His stories of the freedom all in Australia enjoy and the commonsense approach Aussies (including civil servants) always used were legion. I grew up in the shadow of Banjo Patterson and other Aussie poets and storytellers but I know the Greens, bereft of commonsense and knowledge of how the environment actually works has turned rural Australia (and most of the English-speaking agricultural world) into a nightmare. My dad, a countryman to his fingertips, must be spinning like a rotisserie!

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    Anthony Watts @2 point about multiple complaints from a small core of individuals appears to have slipped under the radar. The article’s analysis appears to treat these numbers as some sort of local opinion poll when it is no such thing. If DAFWA detected odour on 20 days in a month then there appears to be no reason why just one and the same person couldn’t lodge 20 complaints. Indeed, given that complaints are being taken by three institutions then there is the potential for just one person to lodge a total of 60 complaints in a month when 20 days showed a reading.

    Note how January 2009 has 12 recorded DAFWA odour days and 10 complaints have come from the Ag College, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE COLLEGE WAS CLOSED THE WHOLE MONTH FOR THE HOLIDAYS. DEC and Shire complaints amounted to 30 in that month and this could quite conceivably have come from 1 person lodging 10 complaints at 2 locations and 1 person lodging 10 at one of them. Until the exact name, address and date of each complaint is known then this data must be regarded as having absolutely zero integrity. Furthermore, given the character and scale of the detriment suffered by Matt and Janet as a result of DEC reliance on such questionable data then there are grounds for exploring legal remedies in respect of gross negligence.

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    Matt and Janet, you really need to get hold of the documentation behind these surveys. If not by FOI then find some means to subpoena it. If that fails then draw maximum public attention to the fact that they are withholding this material. You need to make this the immediate issue and you need to find out how many people lived closer to your place than the complainant but who didn’t complain. That will provide you with a valid test of local opinion and highlight the negligence and misconduct of the scumocrats. This entire data set of complaints is capable of being supplied by just one determined sicko making serial complaints to three different organisations. There is a substantial public interest in proper audit of this process and the detection of multiple inputs.

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    Geoffm

    I have been following this debate with interest. The discussion is that DEC approved the facility for 14900 head in 2002, and that in reliance on this, the Thompson’s invested in the facility. Later, the DEC reduced the number of stock without justification, leading to the feedlot being destocked. Sounds bad. But What is not clear is when the Thompson’s bought the land- i doubt DEC identified the site.

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    Bernd Felsche

    Ian Mott #67:

    Back in the last century, when I was a student at university, I was a member of a club which was considered “right wing”: The computer club. Any club that wasn’t politically-correct was considered right-wing.

    The club had access to some funds and facilities; which were allocated by Societies Council. Various club members ensured that when there was a vote, that Soc.Council meetings were “stacked” in the computer club’s favour. Votes at the meeting counted.

    Unintended, extra-curricular education in political gaming.

    Unfortunately, such gaming is carried out of the political playpen of universities into the real world where such things can do real harm to real people and organizations.

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    Roy Hogue

    I’ve followed this with considerable interest. But try as I might there’s one thing I haven’t figured out. Can someone enlighten a slightly ignorant American as to what exactly the DEC is?

    Thanks

    Roy

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    MattB

    Department of (for) Environment and Conservation. Recently known as DE, before that DEP. Western Australian State Government department.

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    Roy, DEC is Department of Environment and Conservation, the Western Australian acting department for the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), granted powers under the Environmental Protection Act (1986), which powers were significantly expanded in a host of amendments and regulations attached to the legislation since 1986.

    Geoffm, we settled on the greenfield site on 1 November 2001, although we had contracted to purchase before that, and spent considerable time, money and effort ensuring we could develop the site…meetings with the Shire, the Water Corporation, talks with the Ag School, DEC, neighbours, etc.

    We were well aware that we might not be given development approval, but plans for such developments must be site-specific. So we purchased, knowing that a certain amount of risk existed in that purchase. We would have taken a “no” initially. We would have re-sold the farm block and gone and done our business somewhere else. We might have lost a bit of money, but we were willing to take that chance, especially after the pre-purchase investigations we had done. Thanks for the question!

    Cheers,
    Janet

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    LOL! Bernd, it just dawned on me that I also attended university in the last century! Damn! Good one….

    :-) Janet

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    Roy Hogue

    Thanks Janet.

    They sound about as reasonable as our EPA.

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    Roy Hogue

    MattB,

    Mind letting us in on what kind of business you’re going into. It sounded like you were setting up to consult on how to get through the red tape of government agencies. But that might be a conflict of interest if you stay on your local council. So maybe I’m misreading what you said.

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    Ian, the two FOIs we’ve done reveal that the sharing of info in response to the FOIs was guarded. In the second FOI, we got DEC’s figure of 13 substantiated complaints. We have been unable to determine exactly what the process of substantiation is, but there seems to be no thought applied as to odour source. When our lawyer at the time asked DEC for proof of alleged complaints, DEC never responded, and they stopped informing us of the complaints they did receive (prior to that, we were informed of complaints, but not allowed to know location or name).

    It’s extremely difficult to get straight answers, and, while everything we give to DEC seems to be for public consumption, we’re not afforded the same courtesy. Imagine being effectively shut down based entirely on complaints, and we have to file a Freedom of Information request to have access to those complaints.

    Cheers,
    Janet

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    MattB

    Roy – the business aims to deliver sustainability consulting services to clients that takes the emotional heat off the agenda and delivers rational science based (and policy based), political agenda-free advice on how an organisation can make sensible decisions that are in line with core business. In a nutshell. There would be no conflict with me elected position as my local government is small (only 30,000 people in a city of 1.5 million) and I’d simply not be able to try and do any paid work for the council, and to declare an appropriate level of conflict of interest should the situation arise where necessary.

    That said – I’m considering joining an established company instead – will have to see how things develop. Total eclipse in my sign suggests I should be heading for big things;)

    I like blogs, and I like the arguments and the freedom to discuss and debate and the added freedom to occasionally be a sh*t-stirrer, but I’m quite the rational professional in the external world;) Although I need a hair-cut.

    As an example of how reasonable I am – for example, yesterday I had a very enjoyable coffee catch up with a former work colleague who had heard I was leaving. She gave me her updates which include being more involved in the climate sceptical movement, including only last week having dinner with Ms Nova and Mr Archibald themselves.

    I sometimes get the feeling that blog regulars here would think I’m far more likely to shriek “climate heretic” while pointing wildly and looking for a pitch fork and pot of burning oil to run such a person out of town, as I would be to arrange an enjoyable catch-up coffee with such a person. For sure we had our moments of tension while colleagues, but I don’t judge people on their climate stance – I’d lose a lot of mates if I did.

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    Ian Hill

    Speaking of cattle, I just read this gem from Christopher Booker’s marvellous book, page 245:

    Similarly surreal events were taking place elsewhere on the battlefield. Dr Pachauri, described by the BBC as ‘the world’s top climate scientist’, won widespread media attention when he told a conference organised by Compassion in World farming that everyone should give up eating meat. This was on the grounds that the digestive methane given off by cattle contributed more to greenhouse gases than all the world’s transport. As a vegetarian Hindu, Pachauri said nothing about the contribution to global warming made by India’s 400 million sacred cows.

    I guess India’s cows are exempt from all the calculations.

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    Thanks, Janet @76. It sounds like you need to make a specific request to the Ombudsman (if you haven’t already) for them to audit all complaints from the Shire, DEC and the Ag College to determine;
    1. The character and form of complaint recording by each authority.
    2. The total number of individuals who have complained, the number of complaints lodged by each individual, and the incidence of multiple complaints lodged with two or three authorities on the same day.
    3. The approximate location of the complainants and the number of non-complaining residents between the property and the complainants residence.
    4. The status of the complainants, including residence duration (long-term or transient, visas etc)
    5. The existence or otherwise of association with DEC officers involved with this case on the part of most frequent complainants.

    That should rattle a few daggs.

    By the way, did you get similar response from Council?

    If you get no satisfaction then this is the issue you should consider springing a demonstration on. Request a joint audit of council complaints with an independent third party nominated by yourself to maintain the privacy of complainants.

    And remember, a public servants indemnity from prosecution does not extend to acts done negligently or unlawfully. Acting negligently (including the collection of data) causing detriment is a breach of discipline under all PS Employment Acts. So get in there, take and hold strategic ground and, above all, inflict casualties on enemy combatants. Take no prisoners and shoot the wounded.

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    Geoffm

    Janet, I am familiar with Victorian feedlot code, which contains guidance on how many stock can be held at a given site, based on proximity to houses, towns etc. From the info in these blog pages, the feedlot is about 2km from the College and 4km from Narrogin. Without knowing the detail about your stocking densities and topography etc, using the Victorian model, the feedlot looks too close to these places. Did you go through this process before committing to the site?
    And your videos were prepared before the Minister’s decision on your appeal, which granted you 10000 head, with no odour impact at “sensitive places”. I can’t see if you have explained why this is unfair – your complaints relate more to the conduct of the DEC since 2002. What is wrong with a condition requiring that you don’t cause a nuisance to a neighbour (which I think is the common law anyway)?

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    Geoffm, I think the location question has been answered already, but to clarify: Our project development plan and the works approval that granted us permission to construct a 14,940 head beef cattle feedlot were site-specfic. The Ag College, the piggery, the open-air piggeries between us and town, and 6/8 of the homes in the rural subdivision 2 km awy all existed at the time permission was granted. The process we went through was long, tedious, detailed, and thorough.

    As for the Minister’s ruling, our main problem is that it now gets handed back to the DEC for amending. Given that DEC did not properly implement the Minister’s ruling on the 2008 appeals, we are dubious that they will do so this time.

    What is wrong with a condition requiring that you don’t cause a nuisance to a neighbour (which I think is the common law anyway)?

    Well, several things: it is undefined, unmeasurable, and due to the lack of scientific measurement of odour, must rely upon complaints. Section 49 of the EP Act (1986)states:

    “unreasonable emission means an emission or transmission of noise, odour or electromagnetic radiation which unreasonably interferes with the health, welfare, convenience, comfort or amenity of any person.”

    The lack of definition exists in the legislation. I think you are confusing common law with legislation. This has never been tested against common law, but we would love to do so. We submit that any emissions that have come from our facility have been reasonable in that this is a rural area and we are surrounded by other agri-businesses and private households that engage in activities which also emit odour.

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    Bernd Felsche

    Janet

    We submit that any emissions that have come from our facility have been reasonable in that this is a rural area and we are surrounded by other agri-businesses and private households that engage in activities which also emit odour.

    Indeed alleged complaints of agricultural odours from the Agricultural College should have been received with well-deserved mirth.

    Back when I last had a real holiday in 2007, I booked accommodation in a holiday home for myself and hangers-on in Bavaria. It was a real farm. They had goats, etc.

    No complaints about the smell. One’s only aware of it for a little while when it changes drastically or thinks about it. We knew it was a farm before we got there. I checked with a friend who has a business nearby and he knows a member of the family who run the farm and he confirmed that it was a working farm.

    I made the effort to find out what itwas like to stay there for less than a week.

    I’m baffled how somebody could move to an agricultural region and somehow imagine that it wouldn’t smell like it. How come there is so much heed paid to such obviously irrational but loud individuals?

    If a Department went out and sought complaints about the smell, then it made those questioned think about the smell. This makes them conscious of the odour to which they may otherwise be adapted. Such polling creates a huge bias.

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    Joe Veragio

    Hmmm, the smell obviously lags the number of cows, ‘though not by 800 years, then you get a runaway complaints effect, regardless of the number of cows…

    What does this tell us about the paleoclimatic record ?

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    My last residence in NZ was in a mixed farming district a half-hour drive from a major city. In the late ’80s,our local District Council approved the subdividing of suitable ‘lifestyle blocks’ as small as five acres, plus ‘bush lots’ of under an acre on land that was classified as ‘sub-marginal’ for full-scale farming operations. The new classifications worked well until the district suffered an influx of wealthy city professional people who wanted to enjoy the purity and serenity of a rural setting. Within months, a clique of the wealthy new chums began making complaints to officialdom about the noise of tractors and farm machinery, the smell of cows and silage, etc. A district committee was formed to discuss these and other issues and, fortunately, these new chums eventually came to the realisation that farming, like any other industry, produces noise and odours as an inescapable bye-product. The few grumpy incomers knew how to apply political pressure but opposing this with the democracy of well-structured district meetings worked well to allow the local farmers and businees people to get on with their lives and had the added long-term benefit of drawing the community closer together.

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    wes george

    I’d like to say to Janet and Matt that I am ashamed that this has happened to productive, innovative people who have come to Australia with the best of intentions to build a new life in a land that (once) promised a fair go to all. Your loss is a reflection of our national loss. We are all made smaller by this injustice. I don’t really understand what happened, nor can I help in anyway, but I feel compelled to say that I am sorry. A mostly useless gesture, I know. But I am truly sorry.

    I hope that no matter the outcome you hold your heads high and keep endeavoring to bring that indomitable Texan spirit to Australia. I have lived in Texas, a state, aye, a former nation in itself with a history as vast as all Australia, full of adversity as well as triumphs. No doubt that you came here because you saw in Australia a bold new frontier, like that which once existed in Texas. Please, don’t be thwarted. Persevere! Your original judgement was correct, the opportunities are here. Australia is a vast, empty and welcoming frontier. Chin up! Stay strong. As my mates in San Antonio like to say…what don’t kill ya, will make ya stronger!

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    pattoh

    The role of Dr Schoombee in this affair has grabbed my attention.

    Even though I am not involved in the law & avoid it at every opportunity, I thought it would be a good idea have a quick squint at the WA Law Society guidelines.

    I had a vague idea that there was a primary edict pertaining to fiduciary responsibility but it is probably a matter of definition & interpretation.

    This is from the WA Law Societies Professional Conduct Rules July 2008 Revision.

    A man in the street ( like me ) should be able to get the jist of this:-

    7. Conflict of interest
    7.1 Subject at all times to the duty of a practitioner to the court, a practitioner must give undivided faithfulness to the client‟s interest, unaffected by the interest of any other person, including the practitioner‟s own interest, or by the practitioner‟s perception of the public interest.
    7.2 A practitioner must at all times fully and frankly disclose to the client any interest the practitioner has in any matter in which the practitioner acts for that client. If the interest is adverse to the client‟s interest the practitioner must decline to represent or cease representing the client (as the case may be) unless the client is fully informed and voluntarily assents to the practitioner acting or continuing to act on the client‟s behalf.
    7.3 A practitioner must not give legal advice to a person knowing that the interests of that person are or may be in conflict with the interests of another person who is already a client, except for advice about obtaining the services of another practitioner.
    7.4 A practitioner must not represent or continue to represent two or more clients with conflicting interests in litigation.
    7.5 A practitioner may only represent or continue to represent two or more persons with conflicting interests in non-litigious matters if to do so is not likely to prejudice the interests of any one client and each client is fully informed of the nature and implications of any conflict of interest, and voluntarily consents to the practitioner so acting or continuing to act.
    7.6 If a practitioner:
    (1) has obtained confidential information as a result of acting for a client; and
    (2) there is a risk that by acting for a person whose interests are or may be adverse to those of the client, the practitioner may disclose or make use of the confidential information, in breach of the practitioner‟s duty of confidentiality to the client,
    the practitioner must not act for that person.

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    Cate S

    Janet and Matt – i think Ian Mott is onto something – you need to generate an income – so – given your complainants like to ride bikes up and down the road – and have now stopped…oooh aaahh! (can i say that :) )
    Well, i think you should open a nudest colony! Yep, all you have to do is put up a few shade sales over the pens- a few chairs, a few privacy rooms for those who …well you know!
    You can capitalize on the retention pond – heck you have swans, ducks etc (hope there are no yabbies in the retention pond – OUCH!) and people can go skinny dipping there! You have all the facilities!
    Sealed road – heck even the Ag kids would be up for more of those “farm tours” i would bet!
    How much to charge and who to employ locally – hm…i wonder what regulations “odour” wise could be made to shut you down with this new “business” venture?
    Privacy would be paramount so you would have to have security cameras monitoring the road…just to see if any bike riders (push bikes) were regular, just to be on the safe side!

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    Ian Mott

    The Farmonline people (fairfax Media) are reporting a 15,000 (35%) drop in feedlot numbers from WA over the past year, against the national trend, as a result of local supply/demand and market forces. But the Thompson’s had 6,000 head last June quarter and none this year. So the squalid truth is that 40% of the WA decline is directly attributable to the venal malgovernance of DECWA. See http://fw.farmonline.com.au/news/state/livestock/cattle/wa-lotfed-cattle-numbers-drop-significantly/1897971.aspx

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    Milwaukee Bob

    Jo, where’s the PayPal link to donate?

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    [...] All related links and information (including evidence, maps and graphs). c) A review of complaints show activist motivations and how limited the opposition really is. d) Part I and Part 2 of the [...]

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    Bernd Felsche

    Janet suggested that this link would be appropriate in this thread:

    The Local reports that the German town of Aachen stinks

    A mysterious stench has plagued the western German city of Aachen for much of the past year, but neither city officials nor scientists have been able to determined the foul odour’s source.

    Even with the best technology and scientific minds, they can’t isolate or fix it.

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