Friday, July 22, 2011

Firminger, Belshaw & the environment

This post is just a short muse.

You would think that Peter Firminger (and @PeterFirminger)and I would not get on.

He is a Green supporter and I am not. He is seriously worried about mining development and is an active protagonist of the country and regional movements designed to stop certain mining activities in their tracks.  I am more worried about New England economic development and consider that if environmentalists had had their way, had even existed in the past, then key economic developments would simply not have happened.

Yet despite all this, Peter and I cooperate. There are a number of reasons for this.

Both of us believe that local community development and empowerment is central. Both of us believe that current structures work against the local and regional, that blind imposition of centrally imposed rules by people who do not understand that their decisions can adversely affect people in ways that they barely understand is simply silly. Both of us support New England self government, the creation of constitutional structures based on geography and community interest  that will make government more effective and representative. Both of us believe that that we must develop new approaches. And both of us are inclined to try to do too much in pursuit of new approaches!

Like Peter, I have been a community activist. I still wear sloppy joes carrying the slogan  Save New England on the front, No Big guns on New England on the back. These date back to the days when Canberra wanted to turn a large proportion of the western half of the New England Tablelands into a military firing range. I get some very strange looks now when I wear them!

There is a blind insensitivity today in Government decision making. People do not recognise that Government decisions create a pattern of winners and losers. Perhaps more precisely, they do, but regard it as abstract and unimportant.

Take mining in the Hunter Valley. The costs of that mining are local. The economic benefits including taxation largely go elsewhere. You shouldn't be surprised, therefore, when locals object.

I am not saying that the local should override the benefits of the "broader good" however defined. I am saying that our current systems do not allow the local and the regional to be taken into account. They do not allow for a fair sharing of the costs and the benefits.

Those like Peter and I who argue for new approaches are ignored until the wheels finally fall off.

I listened to a radio report on coal development on the Liverpool Plains. Personally I support this. But the glancing reference to possible pollution of ground water on the program seemed oblivious to the fact that, and it is a fact, that these ground water reserves are the greatest reserves in Northern New South Wales, the broader New England.

The farmers who use this fact to attack mining are using its for their own ends. However, that doesn't of itself make the argument wrong. The public servants, politicians and mining interests who accuse the farmers of self-interest are just as guilty of the same.

My point is that we need more discussion, more analysis, to allow people to work though the issues. There will still be real differences at the end, there will still be winners and losers, but we will have a much more sensible final outcome.          


Greg said...

"A fair sharing of the costs and benefits". Spot on Jim!

To that I would add a fair sharing of empowerment in the decision making process.

Speaking specifically for Newcastle and the Hunter and broadly for the Greater New England, there is almost no fairness and no empowerment.

Consider coal mining. The costs are almost exclusively borne by the local communities of the Hunter (noise, dust, contamination, congestion, strain on infrastructure, loss of productive land, community health issues and dislocation etc.).

The local benefits are in terms of jobs and economic activity. But the broader benefits from revenue for public services and infrastructure are mostly concentrated in Sydney and Canberra.

The decision making is almost exclusively in Sydney, Melbourne and foreign boardrooms.

We bear most of the costs, few of the benefits and none of the empowerment. The dice is very much loaded against us.

We will never have fairness without self government for New England!

Jim Belshaw said...

I agree, Greg, but in achieving our self government dream we also have to articulate and get people to share common principles that can be used to guide common action.

One part of that is to keep on pointing out that the distribution of costs and benefits is not fair, not equitable.

Your point about decision making is well taken. Statehood is not a panacea, but it is the only sure way of exercising some degree of local influence.