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.