Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Belshaw's World - scoping New England’s environmental wars

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 28 April 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010.

This column continues my discussion on the environmental battles now raging across New England.

Driving up to Armidale recently via Gloucester, I passed a coal train. Next to it on the road side was an anti-mining sign. I couldn’t stop, but it made a good photo.

On 23 March, the third Newcastle coal loader saw the docking of its first ship. This was briefly interrupted by members of the Rising Tide group who chained themselves over the wharf to try to stop the ship.

Environmental protestors arguing that coal mining must be phased out for climate change reasons frequently try to disrupt shipping.

At the other end of the spectrum, the NSW Government acted to take over the 120 year old Camberwell Common to facilitate mining expansion. A spokesman for NSW Lands Minister Tony Kelly stated that the Government had intervened because negotiations with the community had broken down.

On the Liverpool Plains, the NSW Government acted to reverse a court win for those protesting against possible coal developments by attempting to introduce new legislation that would overturn the decision.

Coal is big business.

In 2,000, Hunter Valley coal production was 67 million tonnes, rising to 112 million tonnes in 2007/2008. Coal royalties paid the NSW Government have risen from $197.03 million ten years ago to $1.227 billion in 2008/2009.

With seven new mines under construction, five proposed expansions of existing mines plus two new proposed mines, you get a feel for the way the industry is exploding. You can also see why mining royalties are so important to Sydney, for this is the Government's main growth revenue. Without this growth, the recent drop in State revenues from other sources would have had even more calamitous effects.

The State’s position is far from secure.

The Federal Government is also eying tax revenue from mining. While Mr Rudd has already said that this will not affect mining royalties, the reality is that it would put an effective cap on increased state royalties from this source.

In the Upper Hunter, protestors argue that the area is not getting a sufficient return from mining, that the Hunter bears the costs, Sydney gets the cash.

Some call for separation and a re-created New England New State movement, calls repeated by others after the Camberwell expropriation.

Staying in the south, the Tilegra dam proposal is part justified on climate change grounds. Hunter people argue with justice that there are no real reasons for the dam, that it is a political response.

In the north-east, Malcolm Turnbull, then Federal Water Minister, calls for the Clarence to be damned to provide water for Brisbane. Again, climate change is given as one reason.

A local protest movement is born objecting to any diversion of water, including diversion of water into western rivers as sought by some irrigators.

In the west, the NSW and Commonwealth Governments acquires Toorale Station and turn it into a national park. One hundred full and part time jobs go in an area with already high unemployment. This is followed by other water purchases.

Irrigators protest that the approach by the Murray Darling Commission to water planning across the total basin does not pay sufficient attention to social and economic factors, a position supported by the Productivity Commission.

Long held concerns about the way that land is being tied up in red tape lead to a rural protest movement. Farmers argue, among other things, that environmental approaches ignore the important role that might be played by carbon sequestration in soil, that simply locking country up in forests or national parks is not a good way to go.

Operating below the normal metro media horizons, these concerns play into the hands of those arguing against climate change fuelling a revolt that will ultimately derail Rudd Government plans and cost Malcolm Turnbull his leadership.

Meanwhile, at Glen Innes wind farming proposals create anger. Sydney is accused of ignoring due process in its desire to get things through.

Down on the coast, Byron Bay Council loses a legal battle over its right to stop people protecting their homes from rising sea levels. More broadly, all coastal councils have to decide how to respond to Government rules limiting development in areas considered to be at longer term risk from rising sea levels.

In my next column I will look at some of the policy and organisational confusions all this has created.


Greg said...

There is a common thread running through this. Local communities being steamrollered without due consideration for their rights and interests or compensation for their harship and losses. It seems that profits for big business and political expediency in Macquarie Street always take precedence over regional interests. How sad.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Greg. You have actually captured the theme for my next Armidale Express column. This week's was on the oppression of the minorities, something that all democracies have to watch. Next week's will be on what people might do about it.

Augustus Winston said...

Jim I don't know about you but a recent trip to the Hunter confirmed for me that there are far too many wineries in the Hunter Valley (over 200 at last count and let's be honest most wineries are owned by retired macquarie street surgeons and dentists in it for the tax break). This has lead to a ridiculous amount that has been allowed to flourish unabated. You can't drive anywhere around that region without tourist buses, grape fields and overpriced wineries ruining the show. Many people, miners included, have said "Thank god for the coal mines, as they provide a break from the encroaching wineries"
People should stop to consider that the coal power generated by these mines is also used to make wine. A point that those pushing for expansion of the wine industry should consider.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Augustus

One of the difficulties is the nature of trade-offs.

There may well be too many wineries. However, I personally like the expansion in wineries and in some of the related activities because it adds to the texture of life. On the other hand, some of the locals in particular areas don't lke the way that associated tourism is affecting their life.

Coal brings jobs, and that's important, but then brings its own environmental conflicts.

At a purely personal level, I am generally pro-jobs. However, what I am trying to argue for is a better process that at least allows us to consider issues including th local viewpoint. There, I suspect, we might be in total agreement.

manfred said...

byron bay beaches are the real paradise on earth..we just had a wonderful vacations there ..having cool dips into the sea ..the accommodations were fantastic there..

byron bay luxury

Jim Belshaw said...

I left this one up, Manfred, only because I have no problem in promoting Byron Bay.

Mark said...

I live in the Hunter Valley and have done so for most of my 35 years although I have also lived in other parts of NSW too. I've seen regional angst over the whole Newcastle-Sydney-Wollongong "investment area" whilst living in Orange and heard plenty whilst listening to regional radio broadcasts. I never knew that some parts of regional NSW thought of the Greater Newcastle/Hunter Valley as the same as Sydney in terms of investment.

Well, sentiments here in the Hunter are swinging against what you describe as the Sydney Government. More mines and a new dam for Sydney at our expense, the proposed sale of power stations which employ local people etc etc.

I've been emailing Mr O'Farrell's cronies asking what they have planned for areas that fall outside of the Sydney basin. No news. More of the same perhaps?

I think back when I was a young apprentice and I once heard an old toolmaker speak about the failed referendum over the proposed "New State".

I'm glad that I stumbled across your blog Mr Belshaw. The more that do read, the more I'm sure will see that there can be an alternative to what we have now.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Mark and thanks. There now a new New England State Movement Facebook page -!/group.php?gid=106438812712957. There is also a group in the Hunter discussing the possibility of holding a public meeting in Newcastle to test interest in reforming the Movement. If you would be interested in joining the discussions, let me know.