CSG and coal mining National Partnership Agreement produces first report

SBN160412partnershipsThe COAG Reform Council has released its first assessment report under the Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development National Partnership Agreement with disagreement between the Commonwealth and NSW the major hurdle.  The National Partnership Agreement report looks at whether participating governments have completed their actions under the agreement which reviews CSG and large coal mining developments and potential impact on water resources.

Of the four states in the agreement – NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia – only NSW has not completed its milestone to publicly release a protocol for referring projects to the new Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC). The NSW and Commonwealth Governments have not agreed on NSW’s draft protocol. The report said it remained unclear how NSW would decide which projects to refer to the IESC for advice outside of land it has identified as Strategic Agricultural Land.

This delay may defer the provision of NSW project applications to the IESC for advice until the protocol is published and will also affect the period to which the benchmark to refer all project applications to the IESC. Queensland remains on track having signed the National Partnership on February 14, 2012 (under the Bligh Government) thanks to a one-off $18 million payment from the Federal Government.

Despite complaints from the Newman Government about duplication of regulatory bodies, the new government endorsed the protocol for project referral on October 1, 2012. The protocol requires Queensland government officers to refer a proposal if it is deemed a ‘project application’ (that is, it requires an Environmental Impact Statement) and it is ‘likely’ to have a ‘significant impact on water resources’. However as of October 2012 Queensland has not referred any projects to the IESC, though the Commonwealth has referred several Queensland projects.

The aim of the IESC is to give governments solid scientific advice on the potential effects of CSG and large coal mining developments on water resources. On November 27 last year, federal environment and water minister Tony Burke announced its creation as a statutory body under amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.  The six-person committee’s role is advisory  and has no responsibility for issuing approvals for projects or recommending whether a project should be approved.

Tony Burke said the Committee was created to provide advice on coal seam gas proposals and large coal mining developments. “The work of this committee will give communities reason to be confident that future decisions about coal seam gas and large coal mining development are informed by the best possible science,” Burke said.

Releasing its first report this month, COAG Reform Council chair former Victorian premier John Brumby said CSG mining was a contentious issue. “Coal seam gas mining has an important role to play in Australia’s future energy security and economic development,” Brumby said. “This agreement aims to improve the community’s confidence in decisions on coal seam gas and large coal mining development by informing those decisions with substantially improved science and independent expert advice.” Brumby said in five years to 2010-11, CSG production increased from 2% to 11% of Australia’s total gas production. “Coal seam gas is an important source of natural gas that has the potential to strengthen Australia’s long-term energy security and to further expand energy exports to meet growing global demand for energy,” he said.

The report found Australia’s CSG profitably extractable reserves have been increasing in recent years to 35,000 petajoules (PJ). Estimates suggest a further 65,000 PJ could become economically viable in the future and there are even larger estimates of inferred (122,000 PJ) and potential (259,000 PJ) CSG resources. The report said the community was concerned about potential environmental impacts of new developments including the volume of water produced as a by-product and possible contamination of aquifers.

It identified three priority areas to strengthen decision making:

1. more closely identifying potential and actual impacts on water resources, and avoid or minimise significant impacts through a transparent process that builds public confidence

2 substantially improving governments’ collective scientific understanding of the actual and potential effects of CSG and coal mining developments on water resources

3 ensuring the best scientific information and expertise underpins all relevant regulatory processes and decisions.

The Surat Basin is one priority area identified for bioregional assessment. The report says the bioregional assessments would analyse the ecology, hydrology and geology to assess the potential risks to water resources as a result of the impacts of coal seam gas or large coal mining developments. “These assessments will provide advice to governments about the water related resources and risks on a region-wide, rather than project specific basis,” the report said.

The National Partnership program will provide $50m over three financial years with 50% to the states and 25% each to according to the relative distribution of coal production and CSG projects.

Commonwealth-referred Queensland projects under consideration by IESC are:

Stanmore ‘The Range’ Open Cut Coal Mine – being considered

Newland Coal Extension Project – being considered

Arrow Bowen Gas Project – advice provided

Santos Future Gas Supply Area Project – advice provided

Middlemount Coal Mine – advice provided

Anglo Coal (Foxleigh) Pty Ltd—Foxleigh Coal Mine Extension – being considered

Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd—Alpha Coal Project—Mine and Rail Development – advice provided

Aquila Resources Ltd—Blackwater Washpool Coal – being considered

Adani Resources Ltd—Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project – being considered

AMCI (Alpha) Pty Ltd—South Galilee Coal Project – being considered

Taroom Coal Project, Surat Basin – advice provided

Collingwood Coal Project, Surat Basin – advice provided

Codrilla Coal Mine, south east of Moranbah – advice provided

Sonoma Coal Mine Expansion, Collinsville – being considered

Thatcher the Musical

With Margaret Thatcher’s death this week, aged 87, it is timely to repost this article I wrote in June 2007 celebrating the release of Thatcher the Musical.

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Following unlikely musical superstars as Jerry Springer and Roy Keane, the life and times of Margaret Thatcher has finally been set to music. The theatres of regional Britain are packing them in with a tour of “Thatcher – The Musical!” the life and times of the country’s most controversial 20th century Prime Minister set to music and comedy. It features an all-singing, all-dancing cast of ten women who croon such standards as The Cabinet Shuffle, The Grocer’s Daughter and The Thatcher Anthem.

The musical is the brainchild of the Wolverhampton-based women’s company Foursight Theatre and documents Thatcher’s rise from young girl to international stateswoman. The cast play eight different Maggies; the Grocer’s Daughter, Twinset Maggie, Power Suit Maggie, Military Maggie, Britannia Maggie, Sacrificial Maggie, Broken Maggie and Diva Maggie, and also the men in her life husband Dennis, Ronald Reagan, Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine. The musical ends with the line of Diva Maggie “I am the iron in your bloodstream, I’m in your DNA!”

Its reminds us of the Iron Lady, a moniker dating to 1976. As opposition leader she made her famous “Britain Awake” speech at Kensington Town Hall where she attacked the Soviet Union. She said “The Russians are bent on world dominance, and they are rapidly acquiring the means to become the most powerful imperial nation the world has seen. The men in the Soviet politburo don’t have to worry about the ebb and flow of public opinion. They put guns before butter, while we put just about everything before guns.” The Soviet Defence Ministry newspaper Red Star picked up the speech and called her the “Iron Lady”. The label was popularised by Radio Moscow and Thatcher saw its advantages.

Thatcher was always steeped in politics. Born in 1925, she was the daughter of a grocer and Methodist lay preacher Alfred Roberts, an independent councillor and mayor with Liberal sympathies. She was educated at Oxford and graduated in chemistry in 1947. She was elected president of the student Conservative Association at Oxford and made herself known to party leadership at its General Election defeat of 1945. She worked as a research chemist at J Lyons and co where she helped developed the first soft frozen ice cream.

In the early 1950s she lost two elections in the strong Labour seat of Dartford though she cut the majority both times. She also won national publicity as the youngest female candidate in the country. She met local businessman Denis Thatcher. They married in 1951 and had twins, Mark and Carol, two years later. Denis had a successful career in the oil industry and became a director of Castrol. He funded his wife’s training as a lawyer, specialising in taxation. She found a safe Tory seat in London and was elected to Parliament in 1959 as MP for Finchley.

Two years later Harold Macmillan appointed her Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Pensions, a position she held until Labour won the 1964 election. In opposition, she was a Ted Heath supporter and was rewarded with a role in shadow cabinet in 1967. When Heath won the 1970 election, Thatcher was appointed Education secretary charged with reducing the budget. Her immediate decision to abolish free milk for 7 to 11 year olds in state schools led to the cry of “Mrs. Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”. Despite Labour council protests, Thatcher got her way and the cuts saved £14m a year.

Heath lost to Harold Wilson in 1974 and Thatcher became shadow environment secretary. After a second election loss later that year, the party held a leadership ballot. Thatcher surprisingly pipped Heath’s preferred successor William Whitelaw to become Britain’s first female party leader. Thatcher slowly won over the party and sat back as the Labour government unravelled, collapsing after the widespread strikes in the 1978-9 Winter of Discontent. This Shakespearean label was popularised by the Sun, which backed Thatcher.

The Conservative Party won the 1979 election with a margin of 44 seats. Thatcher had a mandate for change but in her first two years in office unemployment remained stubbornly high and economic improvement slow. Bobby Sands led an IRA hunger strike in the Maze Prison in 1981 and he and nine others starved to death. Despite European Commission of Human Rights and Irish Government criticism, Thatcher maintained a hardline attitude saying “Crime is crime is crime. It is not political.” Behind the scenes her Ulster Secretary James Prior negotiated concessions with surviving Maze prisoners.

Thatcher increased interest rates and VAT. But with an election looming and defeat likely, salvation came with the Falklands War. The Argentinean junta, looking to deflect attention from their own domestic woes invaded the South Atlantic islands in April 1982. Riding a wave of nationalist sentiment, Thatcher launched a naval task force to reclaim the islands.

Aided by a Labour split, Thatcher won the 1983 election in a landslide increasing her majority by 100 seats. Her second term was marked by battles against the unions. The National Union of Mineworkers launched a massive strike in 1984 to protest closure of a large number of mines. Thatcher was ready. She insisted that coal stocks were built up to avoid politically sensitive electricity cuts. She increased police powers and rushed anti-union laws through parliament. Political commentator Brian Walden described the miners’ strike as “a civil war without guns“. Thatcher wore down the miners, split their leadership and forced them to concede defeat after a year of picketing.

The IRA came back to haunt her in October 1984. The Prime Minister was at the Brighton Grand Hotel on the eve of both her 59th birthday and the annual Conservative Party conference. The IRA detonated two large bombs in the hotel at 3am, one which tore through her bathroom two minutes after she had used it. She and husband Denis escaped injury, but five others including a Tory MP were killed and many were injured. The following day the IRA claimed responsibility with the chilling message “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.” Thatcher spoke to the conference as scheduled at 9:30am that morning to great acclaim.

Thatcher had fervent belief in the power of the markets. She started to sell off the large state utilities and council homes to residents. She abolished large city councils including the Greater London Council, all controlled by Labour. With the country in an economic boom, she had another comfortable election victory in 1987 with a slightly reduced majority. Towards the end of her regime, the chemist in her returned as she started to champion environmental issues. She began to discuss the issues of global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain. At the 1988 conference she told the party “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy- with full repairing lease. This Government intends to meet the terms of that lease in full”.

But with the economy stalling, her popularity declined. She fell out with foreign secretary Geoffrey Howe and Chancellor Nigel Lawson over their desire to force EU monetary union. In 1990, her idea to replace local government rates by the deeply unpopular “poll tax” proved her biggest mistake. With interest rates at 15%, Howe resigned and precipitated a party leadership ballot. Michael Heseltine ran against her but the first ballot was inconclusive. Before the second ballot, Thatcher resigned. She supported John Major as her successor and he retained power in 1992.

That year, she was appointed to the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher. She continued to have a high public profile and spoke out on many issues. She supported Pinochet during his incarceration in London in 1998. By then Labour had ended the Tory stranglehold on power by moving to the middle of the political spectrum. When Margaret Thatcher celebrated her 80th birthday in 2005, her colleague Geoffrey Howe said “Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible”. It’s a notion embraced by the final scene in Thatcher the Musical: Diva Maggie, played by Lorna Laidlaw, emerges to perform a nightmarish, swivelled-eyed song: “we are all Thatcherites now”.

Scratching Rupert Murdoch

murdoch1I picked up the book Murdoch (1993) by William Shawcross in the cheapie bin at Lifeline book sale in January.  The book is an unauthorised biography and does not hold back criticism though Shawcross is recently on the record saying Murdoch saved journalism, at least in the UK. The front cover of my copy of his 1993 book is torn – an eye is scratched out of the subject’s portrait on the front cover. While those protesting against him outside the IPA dinner in Melbourne last week might have deliberately torn it, it looked more like a label had been removed. I didn’t hold much hope I’d find a tattered 600-page, 20-year-old volume on Rupert Murdoch interesting, so it lay unread for several months under a pile of other books.

By coincidence it filtered back to the top of the pile as the media baron made a rare return to Australia last week. As he appeared at the Melbourne gig, he was greeted by a protester wearing a mask of Murdoch as the devil. The image of Murdoch as Satan won’t bother a Catholic/wee free 82-year-old whose gods are money and power but the protester was not the first nor last to imagine him as evil incarnate.

Forbes ranks Murdoch as the 91st wealthiest person in the world but the 26th most powerful person. In this category Forbes tucks him in one spot ahead of Jeff Bezos of Amazon and one behind Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Yet it hard to imagine similar hatred against Bezos or Zuckerberg. Despite a silver spoon upbringing, Murdoch has always been an outsider and his modus operandi has always been blatantly ‘my way or the highway’.

Only 200 pages in, Shawcross’s book is a gripping read following Murdoch’s footsteps, from out of the giant shadow of his father Keith and into the world of international communications. Murdoch snr was one of the most important people in Australia in the first half of the 20th century. In 1915 Keith’s reports from Turkey to the Australian Prime Minister precipitated the end of the Gallipoli campaign. He grew as an editor in the 1920s under the tutelage of British press baron Viscount Northcliffe, Alfred Harmsworth.

Harmsworth showed Murdoch snr the importance of keeping a paper lively, a virtue Keith passed to Rupert. Keith Murdoch was a hugely influential managing editor but at his death in 1952 aged 63 he only owned two newspapers: the Adelaide News and the Brisbane Courier-Mail. The titles passed to his only son. Young Rupert was still at Oxford University but already well mentored in the successful ways of newspapers by Harmsworth through his father: explain, simplify, clarify.

His mother Dame Elizabeth was immensely powerful in her own way and it was her recommendation to sell the Courier-Mail when the Herald and Weekly Times came calling. Still overseas, Rupert acquiesced but was furious and was determined to build up what was left of his inheritance quickly. The Adelaide News was the minor paper in town compared to the Advertiser. But Murdoch’s inexhaustible energy pumped it up.

Never with much time for “elites”, Murdoch delighted in stoking up the News’s anti-authoritarian voice. In conservative Adelaide, the News never strayed too far from accepted opinions. Murdoch was left-wing at Oxford and had a strong interest in Communism and a bust of Lenin in his dorm room. But once established as a newspaper owner, instinctive love of capitalism grabbed him by the throat. Even more than his managing editor father, Rupert became obsessed by the bottom line. He learned quickly how to pick winning politicians and then back them all the way.

Murdoch was more than an astute proprietor; he knew every area of his business. Often he and his senior managers would put out the paper when journalists went on strike. He impressed the printers in London when he climbed onto a machine and found the bar to fold the pages to ensure the presses could run in tabloid format. Murdoch had inexhaustible energy and ran his business by telephone, constantly looking for deals to expand his footprint. His specialty was purchasing loss-making operations and turning them around.

He quickly outgrew Adelaide and brought his racy tabloid format to Perth before breaking into the Sydney market. Fairfax’s boss Rupert “Rags” Henderson preferred to sell a down-at-heels Mirror to Murdoch in 1960 than more established rivals (to the chagrin of his own Fairfax board). Murdoch seized the chance to buy in to Australian’s premier market-place. He could not immediately break into Sydney television but his Adelaide station was making money.

In the late 1960s, Murdoch was looking toward the UK and USA. He bought the News of the World after a protracted battle with Robert Maxwell and later The Sun. The News of the Screws was already a gutter product before Murdoch bought it, but the Dirty Digger (as the unforgiving British establishment called him) took it further downmarket. While his papers were successful, he and especially his second wife Anna Torv, hated London. Anna was the intended victim of a kidnapping and the wife of an employee died in her stead. They were more anxious than ever to get a foothold in the US.

Murdoch started with two papers in San Antonio, Texas. The papers performed solidly though Texans were slow to appreciate Murdoch’s formula for success: exaggerated headlines, a lively style and infatuation with sex and crime. But it worked better once he got his foothold into New York through The Post, the third paper in the US’s biggest city behind the News and the Times. But the summer of 1977 and the long-running Son of Sam saga, gave Murdoch the chance to dominate news. The powers-that-be and his rivals detested Murdoch’s hyped story-at-all-costs but he didn’t care. They were just elitists or “pipe smoking journalist academics” and he was giving the people what they wanted. Murdoch’s power in his native land grew as his international interests expanded. He could even afford a loss-leader: The Australian.

Founded in 1964, the Australian was unique as a national paper in a country with deep metropolitan divisions. Its early years established itself as a serious force and part of the national political conversation under editor Adrian Deamer. Deamer was good (and Murdoch grouchily acknowledged him as the paper’s best editor 20 years later), but he was too independent and too removed from Murdoch’s growing conservatism and was sacked. Murdoch wanted editors to implement his formula, not set a path for social revolution.

Though he supported Whitlam in 1972, Murdoch actively plotted against him three years later. Malcolm Fraser was the beneficiary (just as New York Mayor Ed Koch was two years later) of Murdoch political largesse. As a US watcher of that Koch election put it, “When the New York Times gives its support you’ll be lucky to get an editorial but when Murdoch supports you, you get the whole paper”.

Murdoch was becoming a king-maker, something prospective kings would learn to take into account in dealings with him. Australia is now small potatoes in Murdoch’s global reach but he remains the dominant figure in the local landscape. The Greens calls News Ltd hate media, but Prime Minister-in-waiting Tony Abbott was in the IPA audience last week listening to the Sun King. In 2011, former News Ltd editor Bruce Guthrie suggested Murdoch has told his people Australia needed a change of government and his editors were simply doing his bidding. Guthrie had a spectacular falling out with Murdoch but he makes a good point about the extent of his company’s power: “Given News controls about 70 per cent of Australian newspapers, which, in turn, feed talkback radio and evening news bulletins, that’s a fight most politicians want to avoid.”

At the IPA dinner, Abbott called Murdoch “probably the Australian who has most shaped the world”. Abbott was on less firmer ground when he said Murdoch’s opinionated but broad-minded publications had “borne his ideals but never his fingerprints”. “He’s influenced them but he’s never dictated to them”, Abbott claimed. Murdoch hasn’t had to dictate to his editors. A few courageous exceptions like Deamer and Guthrie aside, most of them have known exactly what to do to keep their job.