Thursday, November 10, 2011

Coal seam gas & the rise of political and policy stupidity

This is the first of two posts on New England's environmental wars with a special focus on coal and coal seam gas.

In yesterday's post on my personal blog, Carbon tax, the Sydney/Gunnedah/Bowen Basin & coal seam gas, I introduced the Sydney-Gunnedah-Bowen Basin, coal and coal seam gas.

While there is some overlap in readership and issues between Personal Reflections and this blog, the two blogs serve different purposes. The sidebar here reads:

This blog is dedicated to the history, life and culture of Australia's New England, that part of Australia stretching from the Hunter Valley through to the Queensland border and incorporating the Hunter Valley, the Mid North Coast, the Northern Rivers, the New England Tablelands, Slopes and Western Plains.

While New England has still to achieve formal political identity, it has its own character and identity and is, in the words of the Australian poet A D Hope, an ideal in the heart and mind.

The majority of the readers on this blog come from or have a connection with or at least an in interest in New England. This includes the great New England diaspora. By contrast, while regular readers on Personal Reflections are well aware of my New England interests, they could hardly be otherwise, they read the blog for its mix of commentary and analysis with the purely personal.

One issue common to the two blogs can be summarised as out of sight, out of mind.

On this blog, I talk about the way in which the submergence of New England identity has led to neglect. On Personal Reflections, I talk about the way in which current main stream metro dominated media reporting with its focus on a narrow range of issues impoverishes policy discussion.

Developments outside the relatively narrow circles in which politicians, reporters, commentators and indeed public servants move tend to be ignored until, suddenly, they explode on the scene. Responses to them are then conditioned by the culture and attitudes of the dominant groups. The results often include confusion and simplistic analysis.

If you think that I'm wrong, consider the confusions in reporting and analysis that arose over the formation of the minority Gillard Government. Lacking any real knowledge of New England's history or geography or indeed the history of the various country movements more broadly, really unaware even of the existence of the New England independents, commentators struggled to make sense of the whole thing. They had been bitten by a now unknown past.

Coal and coal seam gas is another such issue. You see, while important, coal seam gas is only one of a series of interconnected economic, environmental and land use issues that have been bubbling away for a number of years.

Isolated community or farm protests rose and fell. New movements emerged and died, with their media treatment depending on prominence and fit within the conventional left/right or apparent party political spectrum. Riven with conflicting views, apparently disconnected groups began to coalesce, looking for support elsewhere.

It must be four years now since I began to write on Personal Reflections about the growing disconnect between dominant, predominantly urban views and the rest of the country. About eighteen months ago, I started focusing on New England's own environmental wars.

I felt that all this was significant. I was also annoyed at what I saw as the sometimes contemptuous dismal of things as unimportant, as special pleading. I have been involved with the country movements most of my life. I have been researching their history for thirty years, during which time I have seen them largely vanish from the research agenda. Well, they are back.

The Government's ability to pass the mining resource rent tax largely depends not on all the policy papers, not on the views of the states, mining industry or main political parties, not on the views of the reporters or commentariat, not on the views of metro voters. It depends, instead, on a single issue, whether two New England independents and Mr Windsor in particular can be satisfied about coal seam gas. I find this sad and frustrating.

This is not in any way a criticism of Mr Windsor, nor is it a comment on the coal seam gas issue. Rather, it is my indictment of the way our political system and associated policy processes have evolved. To my mind, we no longer have the capacity to analyse a multi-faceted issue, to identify principles, to recognise the impact of variation outside certain now very stylised formats.

These are strong charges. To illustrate them, I am going to take New England's environmental wars in my next post and discuss principles and issues. It will be Sunday before the post comes up since I have to go away.

There are no perfect answers, no ways of satisfying everyone. But the best results in an imperfect world come from information and recognition of the issues involved. I leave it to you to assess the validity of my arguments.


Anonymous said...

hi again Jim
I abandoned my blog some time ago but feel free to enjoy the photos and mine for any interesting points i might have made

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for that, I will!

Anonymous said...

looks like a win, if only a temporary one, for New England

Anonymous said...

Hello, I know this is random but I was reading through your old blogs and saw you were a Grafton fan, and just wanted to share this with you:

Anonymous said...