Saturday, July 09, 2011

Round the New England blogging traps 24 - land, mining & the environment

Now that I have my computer back with bookmarks intact, time for another  blogging round up.

Starting this time with politics, the group political blog North Coast Voices has maintained its normal themes. Over recent posts, it has reported on British Government anti-whaling measures; reported on the techniques Fox News uses to brainwash America; published the statement by Page MP Janelle Saffin expressing continuing reservations on the Government's decision to allow resumed exports of live cattle to Indonesia; supported the attempt by the NSW Greens to effectively ban mining in the catchments of North Coast rivers; examined gender balance among the new senators now entering Federal Parliament; opposed antimony mining near Dorrigo; critically discussed a US climate change scientific skeptic; and run the proposed GetUp commercial targeting retailer Harvey Norman that was banned on the grounds that it might expose the networks to legal action.  And all this in the space of four days!

I have spoken before about the environmental wars across new England. In this context, the antimony mining story is worth examining in a little more detail. Here NCV is quoting a column by David Bancroft in the Grafton Daily  Examiner. After talking about Chinese investment in rural land, Mr Bancroft concludes:

Quality of life and the environment feature pretty high on my agenda. And we need to be mindful of what happens after we sell off the farm. In the case of the proposed antimony and gold mines in the Wild Cattle Creek and Tyringham areas - the mining company would be Chinese, the approving authority the Bellingen Shire Council and most of the workers (and there is unlikely to be too many of them) would probably be based in Coffs.

But who cops the risk if a tailings dam fails and mercury or other heavy metals spew into the tributaries of the Nymboida River?

The Clarence Valley, of course.

And it appears unlikely to receive any of the benefits.

Mining has helped Australia ride out an international financial storm, but we need to be careful that we look at more than dollar signs when considering projects. There's more to lose than a few dollars.

If you look at Mr Bancroft's comments, they mix together Chinese ownership, environmental risk, and that fact that the employment goes to one area, the risks are carried by another. This mix is fairly typical.

Fellow New England blogger Peter Firminger from Wollombi (@PeterFirminger) has been tracking aspects of the environmental wars for some time. In the Hunter and on the Liverpool Plains a key concern has been coal seam gas and open cut mining. Here you have landowners pitted against mineral interests, you have environmental concerns, while there a major problems in the distribution of costs and benefits. The Sydney government gets the benefits from royalties, while the Hunter gets little cash returns and carries the costs.  

The recent purchase of 43 farms outside Gunnedah by the Chinese Government-controlled Shenhua Watermark Coal Corporation in order to gain access to the underlying coal has added fuel to the fire because it is part of a growing concern about growing foreign ownership of agricultural land. 

In Foreign investment and food security another New England blogger Paul Barratt (@phbarratt) suggested that neither food security nor national sovereignty were valid reasons for opposing overseas investment in Australian rural land. However, add in opposition to mining and you get quite a potent mix. Here Peter Firminger pointed to a story in the Australian about Green activist Drew Hutton's Lock the Gate campaign. According to the story:     

A new political disconnect has written a fresh chapter of rural discontent. The unrelenting march of open-cut mining and coal seam gas exploration of the new century has replaced deregulation and industry adjustment of the 1990s as the reform-driven existential threat to country life. Food security has become the proxy for fear of foreign capital.

Accepting that the story is somewhat sensationalised, it's interesting because it runs somewhat counter to another thread in New England, anti-climate change. In The Peter Rowe Column in Coff's Outlook, Hugh states:  

But it is to those two (Julia Gillard and Bob Brown) we must ask the questions as to the detail of this horrendous, and totally unwarranted, carbon tax being imposed, without referendum, on the Australian people.

I know the North pretty well, and its very difficult to harmonise the various and apparently discordant threads. The common theme is, I think, a feeling that decisions are being taken elsewhere ignoring, even in contempt of, local views.

This was meant to be a straight blog report. Still, I think it important to actually record something of the pattern of local views. 

No comments: