Macken sense: I’m not psychic but…

The mining industry has a problem – farmland, the environment and the pesky Great Barrier Reef just keeps getting in the way of their vast new coal mines and mining infrastructure.

Not for much longer.

Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, told a National Energy Conference in Brisbane this week what the source of problem was and it turns out it’s us – Greenpeace. Ferguson exhorted his pals in the mining industry to: “… recognise there are some who seek to manipulate those concerns, and use guerrilla tactics through regulatory processes to frustrate economic development and job creation,” he said.

I don’t have a psychic bone in my body, but I am willing to bet my house on this prediction; over the next six months the State and Federal governments are going to be working hand-in-glove to eradicate as much environmental legislation as possible in order to remove the last remaining controls on the coal industry.

His friends in the mining industry certainly share the Minister’s concerns. At the same conference, Bill Champion, Rio Tinto Coal Australia managing director, said, “Five years ago, Australia was the cheapest place for Rio Tinto to do business, now it is the most expensive.”

And why is this?

Is it because we are losing our competitive advantage to third world countries that don’t have to worry about pesky things like paying a liveable wage, providing a safe work environment for employees or caring for their environment and agricultural land?

Well kind of. Yes those transnational mining companies would certainly like to pay their workers less and Gina Rhinehart is already hard at work pushing the Federal government to allow thousands of foreign workers to come to Australia. And the CFMEU is working over-time to ensure safety conditions in Australian mines are not sidelined in the rush for expansion. But according to the miners and their Minister, it is environmental protections and regulations that are really killing this cottage industry.

As Mr Ferguson told his pals at the conference; ” I believe that governments at all levels need a renewed focus on environmental regulatory arrangements to ensure we don’t unnecessarily stifle investment to the detriment of our national prosperity.”

That is so spooky because the new Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, has said just the day before that his government would be fast-tracking approvals for major mining projects because in his opinion, economic opportunities were being imperilled by environmental campaigns.

And that’s what his Liberal Party pal in Victoria thought too. An analysis of the proposed changes being put forward by the Victorian government shows that that once the regulations are changed it will be harder to build a wind farm than a coal mine, toxic waste treatment centre or a desalination plant in that State.

But the mother of all pesky regulations in this space is the EPBC Act (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act. And as luck would have it – for the Minister and his mining friends – this Act is about to be reformed. Environment Minister, Tony Burke’s department is in the process of drafting the amendments to the Act now and we can expect to see it appear in the next session of Parliament.

So what will these reforms look like? Well here’s a hint. As the fact sheet says; “Delays and uncertainty are costly to business. The Australian Government’s reform of national environment law will reduce business costs through minimising red tape and paperwork, faster assessments, and more long–term certainty for business and the community.”

Mr Ferguson told his friends at the conference that Greenpeace was, “fundamentally anti-growth and refuse to address the realities and complexities of our modern economy”.

Minister try this modern and complex reality. By 2020 the carbon emissions coming from Galilee Basin coal will exceed Australia’s entire national current carbon footprint. And all of it will help drive climate change. How well do you think the economy will be going by 2050 when we have more intense storms, droughts and hurricanes and less rain but more intense rainfall? Those are the kind of realities and complexities the smart folk are trying to deal with Minister.

Macken Sense is a weekly metabolic breakdown of media and green events by our astute commentator, Julie Macken. Follow Julie Macken on Twitter @juliemacken.

  • Steve

    In a democracy, elected governments have a mandate to deliver legislation to the betterment of the electorate. Your apparent contention that State and federal Governments are going against the public good is curious.

    If the electorate of Queensland believed the Green’s belief that the coal industry was the cause of the recent floods and cyclones then they would not have lost 0.8% of their vote. It is not possible that the Queensland electorate was unaware of the Green ‘s platform as the Green’s leader was blaming the coal industry while people were still suffering the dire effects of the floods.

    If the electorate believed that the Greens would have enacted legislation for their betterment, their vote would not have gone backwards.

    I find it disingenuous on your part to reference a 2011 IPCC report to support your contention that bad weather results from increasing CO2 emissions seems to be at odds with the IPCC Special Report on Extremes released only yesterday. This report is the latest summary of the science available:

    • “There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change”

    • “The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados”

    • “The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses”

    As climate scientist Roger Pielke Jnr. (who specializes in weather disaster losses) states:

    “The report even takes care of tying up a loose end that has allowed some commentators to avoid the scientific literature:

    • “Some authors suggest that a (natural or anthropogenic) climate change signal can be found in the records of disaster losses (e.g., Mills, 2005; Höppe and Grimm, 2009), but their work is in the nature of reviews and commentary rather than empirical research.”

    There is no human signature in extreme weather. That’s what the science says.

    I am curious to learn how the Greens would finance our hospitals and other essential services, which are provided by the states, if the royalties from the mining industry were no longer available?

  • Scott

    If you really want to scare people, let’s imagine Australia to be governed by the Green idiology.

    First, let’s shut down mining projects that have world class safety systems and envirnonmental records. Instead, we leave Australians unemployed while we deferred the mines to other countries with slave labour type rules and little envirnomental rules. After all, we know that the air in their countries does not blow outside their boundaries, and the waters in their rivers also stop at their boundaries.

    Second, let’s magically switch to renewalbles. But remember, that only the energy source from the sun and wind is renewable. For these magic renewable sources, let’s ignore all the mining, manufacturing, and construction is not renewable. Solar panels and wind turbines wear out like everything else. They have to be rebuilt at the end of their life cycles (say 7-10 years for solar PE and maybe 10-20 for wind). If renewables are such a good idea, where are the investors when no subsidies are provided from sustainable current forms of energy?

    Third as Steve says, where will funding for roads, schools, hospitals, the dole, etc. come from?

    Fourth, you complain about western lifestyle, but we are the healthiest and longest living humans on the planet. If all this is so bad, then why do you wish to drive us back to third world quality of life.

    If you really wanted to help, the Greens could. We need systems and behavoirs to minimize waste, not turn it off and think it will go away. We need research into truly sustainable forms of renewables, not subsidizing unsustainable forms of renewables that are really now renewables when full lifecycles are included.

    I’m sure glad the large majority of the Australian public sees through the Green farse, and we have a democratic right to direct government for the betterment of all.

  • Dominic Sidor

    The anti-Green argument assumes a few things:

    1) that there is no other way than mining
    2) that the owners of the resources (the people of Australia) are getting a fair return on investment from miners

    While retail and SME’s die along the eastern seaboard people continue to trumpet the miners as the saviours of the economy.

    One day we’ll have to figure out something better than ‘I dug a hole and will sell what I found,’ profits from the mining boom have unfortunately made a small handful of people extremely wealthy at the cost of a shortage of tradies, less funds available to other sectors and therefore inflation to the rest of us.

  • George

    GOOD ON YOU JULIE. I honestly despare at some of the mindless comments you are getting. Your article is BRILLIANT! If economic rationalism ruled as ‘they’ believe it should, then I challenge them to tell me what’s ‘rational’ about having a world full of money that you can’t eat, drink or breathe.

  • Southernfink

    Governments the world over are playing out the wishes of the corporate world pursuing a fast buck.
    They will do whatever it takes to guarantee a profit.

    Profit comes before humanity .
    Polluting the oceans is simply a by product after which all life forms pay the price,including future generations.
    Humanity is lucky to have Greenpeace on their side.
    I support Greenpeace they care about the earth and all forms of life.

  • CC

    Scott and Steve,

    I have some suggestions, actually if your are up for a challenge here you go.

    Find the book The Great Disruption, (sorry I cannot remember the author)

    Open your mind and pop your judgements on the table and have a read.

    The book discusses openly what has been tried, and what works and draws on professsionals in their fields and it spells out how to move forward with solutions, not easy ones but doable ones.

    One more thing, if you have no children borrow some for a day and feel your way into what the world will be like for them if we continue as we are, that is an eye opener – guaranteed.

  • Steve

    Hi CC

    The book you referred to me is, I suspect, The Great Disruption, is by Paul Gilding who in February 2011 promoted it on the ABC’s website:

    In that promo he said:

    “The floods were quickly followed by the most intense cyclone ever to hit Australia. Not good for food supplies, so expect prices to keep rising, especially considering that this was not a localised problem. Climate chaos is now worldwide…”

    CC, as I said in my original post, the IPCC a few weeks ago showed there is no evidence of a human signature in extreme weather over the last 50 or so years … nil, nada, none.

    Thus Gilding is clearly wrong in his assertions regarding climate chaos … so, regarding your suggestion that I …

    “Open your mind and pop your judgements on the table …”

    In this instance I don’t see the need to seriously consider the advice of people who apparently don’t respect (or apparently read) the current science …

    Since I don’t expect the weather in the next 100 years to be measurably worse than what it has always been I have no additional fears for the safety of our children’s children so there are no emotional blackmail strings to be pulled. Recall the 1931 great flood in China which may have killed up to 4 million people, which kind of puts the recent Queensland floods, as tragic as they were, into some sort of global and historical perspective – as does the 1893 Queensland flood where 35 people died.

    I do find it a pity that some alarmist authors appear to use the tragedy experienced by our fellow Australians to apparently push ideological agendas when a cursory Wikipedia search so easily pulls the rug from under the hysterical claims of climate chaos.

  • Jennifer

    The problem is that people dont use less power and are relying on it more and more. If everyone had a more sustainable mindset and stopped exploiting what is around then we wouldnt “have” to rush and cut corners to provide and continue with unsustainable energy sources. If everyone was more conservative and lived in harmony with the earth and not taking it for everything it has we would not even have to consider mining the reef. The ‘urgency’ is because the companies know what they are planning will not pass the legislation.
    If Australias power source and safety was first class after not long other countries will follow suit. That is why other countries are retaliating to their governments as they value their lives also and are striving for a better lifestyle where they are a being not just and objectified number. Yes western world has allowed us to live longer but we are not healthy and it has made us greedy, selfish and de sensitised to real issues and the earth we live on. In the current state we are in and the current demand we are placing on these resources we are going to be left with nothing. Power is going to get more and more expensive and the world will regress to third world conditions anyway. Better to make the changes now while we have a choice…..
    If all the building on the reef stops until the assessments are over and the new mining facilities are built to modern and sustainable standards, i personally have no problem with the carbon tax. It is there to improve standards and encourage people to be concious of what they are using and to raise awareness. If you dont like it then complain to the mega consumers and corporations or change your personal habits now while you have a choice….
    There have been many other opportunities for viable clean energy sources but these have been physically and financially hushed, ignored, or eradicated by the companies in positions of power because they dont know how to make money off them or control the people that use these sources. Empowered people are a threat to their fat pockets. It is a conspiracy and its the beautiful reef who will suffer.

  • Mary

    Animals and vegetation have the intrinsic right to live. We are guests on this planet, guests which have turned into destroyers. Animals and vegetation are not utilities to be used up and expelled as refuse or excrement. The Sumatran Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef must be protected from extinction. This insanity must be stopped!

  • Dominic Sidor

    Mary, Jeniffer, Steve, CC….thank you 🙂

    No jobs on a dead planet.

  • Steve

    Many thanks, Gordon for your cogent contribution.

    Your reference to Monty Python reminded me of the Argument Clinic sketch and I thank you for the trip down memory lane.

    Your disdain for the IPCC is surprising … I would have thought you would have accepted what they said without question, and certainly not ridicule someone who quotes them … I find your attitude curious.

    Ah … I see where you are coming from … you wish to substitute science with ‘gut feelings’. I guess that is with a pythonesque “wink, wink, nudge, nudge… say no more!”

    I note that 10% in 40 years translates to 50% in 200 years … so, Gordon, good luck with that.