With a hint of Four Corners‘ “Lords of the
Forest” in the air, it looks like the SMH didn’t let facts get in the way of a
good greenie cause when it unleashed the Mixmaster on a coal exploration
licence over the weekend.

“Questions over BHP’s huge fee for coal
rights”
thundered Granny’s headline writer for a large and prominent story. “BHP Billiton has
paid ten times more than the NSW government asked for the right to explore for
coal in the Gunnedah Basin, in a deal that has raised eyebrows among
farmers and green groups,” reported environment writer Wendy Frew, somehow
making it seem a little sinister – or perhaps indicating no-one at the SMH
knows how a tender works:

Under the exploration licence,
signed this year, BHP will also investigate the potential for a coal-fired
power plant in the region, and help fund the possible upgrade of a rail line to
Newcastle. BHP has paid the government $100 million – believed to be the biggest
exploration fee in NSW – for the right to explore for coal in a
350-square-kilometre area near Quirindi that includes some of the richest
farming land in the state. The tender asked for a minimum payment of only $8.7
million.

Sinister indeed –
but at least the word “tender” appeared. Still, you have to get down to the
seventh paragraph (and most readers don’t) to get the simple explanation, albeit with a big green twist:

BHP
said the large exploration fee reflected the competitive nature of the tender,
but the Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said it was proof “the government has sold
out the future of the Gunnedah Basin to fix its own financial
mismanagement”.

And it goes predictably on from there. Unlike
the impression the headline and first couple of paragraphs might have created,
it seems BHP hasn’t done anything shonky and didn’t just give Premier
Dilemma more than 11 times (they even
got the multiplication wrong) the fee he asked for.

Too much green tint in glasses can reduce
vision. And when there is so much really
wrong in NSW, who needs to take the Mixmaster out of the cupboard?

Peter Fray

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