Macken sense: I’m not psychic but…

30 March 2012

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.