April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 28. Importing exotic sheep breeds

The costs of the exotic sheep importations
The benefits to the NZ sheep industry
Give me a bid on the cost
It was not real money

By Dr Clive Dalton

Do we need to know the cost?
I believe we do need to know the costs/benefits of past MAF importations, for the simple reason that sometime in the future, somebody will want to import sheep again from other parts of the world, and the costs of what happened last time’ would surely be the first question to be asked by the boffins in Treasury.

I’m in no doubt that New Zealand is going to get Foot and Mouth disease which will wipe out millions of livestock, and which will have to be replaced by animals with good genetics.  So this means looking overseas again.  But maybe if this happened, the disaster would be so great for New Zealand's economic survival that nobody would even think about the cost.  If FMD took out the sheep industry, it would take out all other cloven hoofed animals too.

Why were the costs of the whole exercise never published?   Where they ever worked out?  There’s nobody in Treasury today who would go back through the accounts, if they could ever find them.  There’s probably nobody in Treasury now who would know what a sheep is, or that the small island they can see from their high-rise office in Wellington harbour, was once a prime animal quarantine station!

Where were the farming media?
Where was the farming press at the time asking about the costs? Why didn’t the media chase the Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Finance, or get questions asked by opposition members in the House about the cost and benefits of the exercise, especially after the waste and horror of the slaughter of the first importation.

You have to wonder looking back, if the cost was so high that for political reasons it had to be buried along with the sheep at Mana and Crater!  Why did Federated Farmers not question the cost/benefits of the exercise?  They were probably carried away with all the hype like so many others in the industry about the hyped massive benefits to New Zealand.

Give me a bid!
In idle moments I muse over a likely cost, and start making mental bids starting with millions.  You’d need to start bidding in the low millions, and probably move into the hundreds of millions. I could see the bidding heading for half a billion.

It would be easy to say that’s ridiculous, but try to itemise the bill for the two MAF importations which taxpayers paid for:
  •   All the travel back and forwards between NZ, UK and Europe over the years for scientists, vets and bureaucrats. 
  •   Costs of meetings, meetings and more endless meetings.
  •   Cost of the whole disaster of the first MAF importation.
  •  Purchase of the sheep for live import and ET.
  •  All the vet costs associated with all of that.
  •  Transport approvals, clearance documentation and travel costs.
  •  Preparing Somes Island and care of sheep 24/7 for both imports.
  •   Continual vet testing of sheep on Somes at Wallaceville for both imports.
  •  Preparing Mana Island and care of sheep 24/7 for second import.
  •  Continual vet testing of sheep on Somes at Wallaceville.
  • Costs of slaughter and burial at Mana.
  • Preparing Crater block and care of sheep 24/7.
  • Costs of slaughter and burial at Crater of first import.
  • The costs of taking Mana and Crater block out of livestock farming.
  • Preparing Hopuhopu farm and care of sheep 24/7. 
  • Cost of setting up and running the secondary quarantine units.
  • Salaries of all staff who had time allocated to these projects over the years. 
  • And much more that never saw the light of day - deliberately!
·         Not real money!
I haven’t met anyone who when invited dare make a bid at the cost of the MAF imports.  But then as my former MAF veterinary colleague commented when I tried to get a bid out of him – ‘what’s the worry, it wasn’t real money’! 

And that really is it! What he meant was that it was taxpayers dosh, and even if the cost was published, after some initial disgust, there’s nothing anybody could do about it as it would just be written off with zillions of other dollars that nobody knows about.  So, I’ve stopped worrying as taxpayers’ money apparently isn’t real money, and sadly this attitude very much alive – as we speak!

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